Archive for May, 2012

Diablo 3 Monk Buffs or Stand And Fight, Grasshopper

May 30, 2012 Comments off

Today’s patch brought a couple of monk buffs, which essentially lagged behind community thinking. And community thinking lagged behind design intent. And design intent itself is shifting to match community desires. There is no beginning, there is no end, the flows are ceaseless, etc.

In the beginning, people, including myself, played Diablo III a lot like they would an MMO. We are trained, in an MMO, to specialise. Since our primary goal in Diablo is to destroy, we thought like DPSers, stacked our primary stat and went to town. It got us through Normal, at least.

In the higher difficulty levels, it slowly became apparent that we missed the point completely – we are our own version of the MMO trinity. We have to worry about defences (which means tanky stats like mitigation, mobility and avoidance) health recovery (including shielding and healing ourselves in various ways) and, in the end, damage.

The reality of this misapprehension hit the melee classes first, and most heavily. A ranged class (my glass-cannon gold-farmer demon hunter alt says hello) can kite forever and still call that compelling gameplay, since they’re able to do damage on the fly. In the case of the wizard, they were shielded from the pain of adjustment even more, owing to the broken low-hp-pool Energy Shield build. But the first time a melee player hit Hell and tried to dps in a desecration pool that destroyed him nearly instantly, tears and rage ensued. I keep mine in a vial nearby, as a reminder of darker days.

The problem was felt most acutely by monks. Our survivability does not scale as well with vitality as that of barbarians, and stacking vitality is, at first blush, the most obvious way to fix survivability problems.

For a while, the belief reigned that one must kite like a ranged class, only ducking into melee range to build up some spirit during Serenity immunity. This was, rightly, decried as untenable and stupid. But, eventually, the monks adapted and overcame. They reluctantly tore their eyes away from raw dps and started doing some effective health calculations that were very familiar to anyone who has been tanking in MMOs. Many began unashamedly equipping shields in lieu of the second claw.

The tools to stand and tank (within reason) were there all along. We just did not see them, because of our MMO damage-class mindset. As monks, we are given a 30% damage reduction compared to the ranged classes. Almost all our damage moves, spirit generators and spenders, have some kind of damage reduction (direct or in the form of stuns) tacked on if we choose to rune for it. That stuff adds up. We have plenty of self-healing that synergises with lower hp and high mitigation. We have the option of flicking on a dodge mantra before purely physical challenges. We have the powerful, transformative passive One With Everything, which allows us to extend our highest resistance value to all damage types, for a cheap alternative to resist-all gear.

Sure, we sacrifice some raw damage for all this, but a dead monk lands no blows. And it is better to be able to stand and pummel a monster for 2.5k damage semi-constantly than 3.5k for less than a quarter of the time while in the bubble. It just took us a long time to realise this, because of the MMO poison in our heads. Credit for collating and publicising a lot of this info goes to Kj991 of the monk forums, who was nowhere near the first to come up with the idea of stacking resists and life-on-hit and tanking properly, but perhaps the first to advocate it in a coherent way to the community.

Speaking of life-on-hit, getting a lot of this, preferably with some attack speed bonuses, is indeed a great, perhaps best, way to boost a monk’s survivability in a stand-up fight with higher-difficulty monsters. And in today’s patch, Blizzard give us a hint-by-four in that direction with the new Boon of Inspiration rune for Mantra of Healing, which is nothing else than a poor man’s extra life-on-hit, scaling by level to around 180ish at 60.

There is a lesson in this, somewhere. Monk survival comes about in a more arcane and roundabout way than that of other classes. Should Blizzard have been more explicit, earlier, in underscoring the stats we really need, like life-on-hit and resists? Then again, around 2% of all players have unlocked Inferno at all. At that kind of rarified percentile, should they not be expected to think outside the box and do their own theorycrafting? And, as an aside, could these 2% really be responsible for all the QQ on the forums? Talk about overrepresentation.

At any rate, I am enjoying my monk, mid-Hell, having spent barely 100k on auction house gear to retool for more defensive stats. I do not spend most of my time kiting, and in fact, I’ve got Cyclone Strike on my bar right now to yank stray mobs toward me and away from my witch doctor partner. I can survive standing still in a lot of bad or an arcane lance up the behind, though of course I try not to acquire bad habits. And, if Blizzard are to be believed, the future may be brighter… or they simply know their audience too well:

“That said, we’d like to shift some of the focus away from survival and more toward using a variety of offensive tactics to succeed. Survival will still be important, but finding ways to maximize your damage while staying alive is more exciting.”




Categories: Uncategorized

Leahblerie, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Clicking

May 21, 2012 Comments off

Diablo III, which, I must admit, has been keeping me from my Guardian duties for a few days now, is a good game, on the whole.  The difficulty of Normal mode is quite trivial – storymode, mostly – but Nightmare was a bit of a rude awakening. The awful habits of Normal (forgo vitality, stack offensive stats exclusively, rush in and spam damage without much regard to monster special moves) got my monk killed on the early boss-fights, leaving me free to tuck into some humble pie left over from SW:TOR patch 1.2, while watching my nimble-footed witch dottoressa friend finish the job. The game got better at that point, though I fully foresee some kind of wrist explosion long before Inferno rolls around. Those hours do add up.

Of course, one does not need to reach nightmare and beyond to make the game more difficult for oneself. My second run through, this time solo with a magic/gold-find-stacking wizard, was rather harrowing, with a particularly tough gear-check on Rakanoth in Act IV at 1.3k hp. His charge move is difficult to counter without a certain health pool, unless one gets lucky with mirror images, prescient with diamond skin, or particularly good with line-of-sight baiting using narrow columns in the room. I am none of the above, but RNG came through eventually. Blizzard caters to the self-flagellating playstyle: there is even an achievement for killing Hell-mode bosses while stark naked, but I think I’ll leave this one to actual real-life Jedi.

For the Epicureans out there, there is, of course, the easy way. As everyone knows, the game labours under the long shadow of its auction house. I expect that it will become more significant and interesting beyond its current role of content-trivialiser as more people hit the highest difficulty levels and actually need to optimise their gear to succeed. The auction house metagame will, for most people, become wholly integrated in absolute terms into their Hell and Inferno progress. If the game holds my interest that long, I look forward to that aspect.

Since gold-making tips are in vogue lately: I was able to make a decent bit of early money on shimmering essence flipping, even with the steep auction house cut. Alarmingly, a surprising number of people threw the stuff on the market below its vendor price. Perhaps they amassed a glut and failed to foresee the limiting factor presented by artisan crafting pages? In any case, gold is king, and it’s completely useless to salvage. I vendor all but the most appetising yellows (+experience/primary stat/sockets/gold find). Auctioning for very low prices and keeping the ten slots churning is preferable to fishing for larger sales. There is a small vitality price bubble for high-20s and early-30s items, predictably enough, as people buffer health to contend with the higher difficulty.

As a final note, and also keeping with fashion, it is tempting to carp harshly about the D3 story and the abdication of true Diablo spirit. Since the subject is a well-tenderised dead horse, however, I will try and practice some of that ascetic self-restraint here. Suffice it to say that it is vastly improved if viewed as a commedia dell’arte rather than a drama. Now, at last, all shall see the true meaning of final judgement, for all eternity…

Categories: Uncategorized

D3 Release, or Still Thrashing On A Leash

May 17, 2012 Comments off

Normally, this is where I would happily scourge my fellow gamers for spoiled consumerism, entitlement, impatience and low attention spans. This time around, however, the screaming children have a point. Blizzard made an uncommonly awful mess of this launch.

Diablo III is not an MMO. It is worth remembering this, and easy to forget it, because game companies like everyone else are absolutely gagging to monetise our social transactions. (Even something as innocuous as Heroes VI is trying to be an online game with an “online community”. In my humble opinion, Facebook is just about the worst thing to happen to the Internet and its business models for a good long while, but that is a rant for another time.) It should, therefore, have been considerably easier to manage the server load. No characters tied to servers, (I am aware that a realm is not the same as a piece of hardware, of course, and realm-related resources are quite fungible, but there is still more granularity in MMOs) and vastly decreased synchronisation requirements, to start with. It is a little surprising that a company with Blizzard’s experience at this sort of thing does not have some spare capacity floating around to harness at launch day, too.

The North American servers took about an hour and a half to kick in at all, and went down repeatedly for multiple hours on both days. A menagerie of server errors accompanied every step of the gameplay process, from authentication through gameplay to auctioning. There wasn’t even the courtesy of login queues. The hoi polloi can be forgiven for grumbling a little.

Still, the swirl of anxious humanity on Diablo forums was fascinating to observe. The keenster, who burbled about his day off and his case of Red Bull in the fridge, reduced to hot, manly tears moments after zero hour. The incoherent spewer of profanities and the bargainer toady trying to restrain him. (“do not bite the hand that feeds you, guys!”) The would-be hierophant of server errors, creating a structure of superstition about what exactly causes which. The jailhouse lawyer, darkly muttering “class action suit”.

Could our distant ancestors have acted much differently in the face of natural disasters assumed by them to be divine fiat?

I also wonder what goes through the minds of Blizzard’s representatives on the other side of the barricade. Is the atmosphere closer to a tense war room, trying to manage the massive denial-of-service-attack by the consumer base, or to that relaxed coffee lounge bitterly-satirised on the forums, laughing at the rage in sure confidence of no real consequences? Hard to say, but it does make me smile fondly at the memory of the perfect launch of my MMORPG of choice a few months ago. Much harder feat, executed flawlessly.

Categories: Mentality, Uncategorized

Perfect Dead Calm or How SW:TOR Lost Its Locusts

May 11, 2012 3 comments

As most observers know, SW:TOR received a few body blows last week in the arena of public perception. Chief among them, the reported loss of nearly a quarter of its subscriptions over approximately three months – or two weeks, if one is playful enough to fit a line to the XFire graph, according to which the game will be in the negative (subscribing to players, presumably) by August. However, even dispensing with such statistical silliness, it is clear that the best case scenario is beyond our grasp.

What could such a scenario have looked like? A perfect storm of WoW fatigue, an alluring mainstream-culture IP, the use of immersive storylines (Bioware is still best in business at this, after all) to charm people into staying for a compelling endgame, siphoning off a chunk of devotees from the industry leader and bringing in significant numbers of MMO first-timers.

Common wisdom holds that SW:TOR capitalised on WoW fatigue insufficiently, simply because its core gameplay is insufficiently distinct from WoW. I am not so sure. While even I would not argue that it is anything but similar, the differences – higher skillcap, greater challenge in questing and in flashpoints, a purer, less gimmicky approach reminiscent of TBC, which many people missed fondly – were not brought adequately to the attention of the average WoW migrant. Meanwhile, TOR’s small but grating technical missteps – dodgy ability feedback and keystroke queueing, early UI inflexibility and annoying bugs, a byzantine Galactic Market interface, Ilum and PvP entry thresholds, guild bank support, difficulty of forming flashpoint groups outside of fleet stations – wore away at the migrant’s game sessions. It pains me to concede this next point, but perhaps a few of the small quality of life conveniences, which I scoff at as coddling, may have been a good idea from the get-go: things like earlier sprint and permission to drive through orbital stations. Perhaps some form of automatic public groups for heroic areas. Tempora mutantur; the theme-park player is spoiled.

Star Wars was an important element, obviously. I do not think that anything here was done poorly, but it might have helped if the game were released at some point when enthusiasm for that universe were at a more fevered pitch. Nor can one fairly impugn Bioware’s excellent writing and handling of the IP. Which leaves the alleged weakness of the endgame.

Here, again, I am not so sure. I have to disagree fundamentally with the idea, advanced by a luminary of no lesser stature than Dr Richard Bartle, that the game is crippled by the disconnect between story-driven questing and same old boring raids at level cap. First off, PvP notwithstanding, killing bosses is what one inevitably ends up doing in a theme-park MMO. That is not a bad thing or something to be reimagined to succeed. While window dressing can vary and interesting boss mechanics are interesting, the primary source of satisfaction is found in Ernest Renan’s lovely line about what binds a nation together: avoir fait de grandes choses ensemble, vouloir en faire encore. The opportunity to overcome a setpiece, authoritatively-imposed challenge alongside one’s friends, without the burden of inventing one for oneself, is the theme-park’s great strength, not a weakness. The good doctor’s prescription of ‘more story extension, less endgame’ is a symptomatic treatment at best. Instead, I would suggest more variety, branching and story in raids: leveraging TOR’s unique pleasure of making ethical choices alongside and in view of others as part of endgame content.

How many millions of subscribers – keeping in mind that in MMOs a critical mass builds upon itself – would a perfect storm have been good for? I do not know. SW:TOR recently expanded to new areas of Europe and the Middle East, which is not the sort of thing done by a game in its death throes, wherein the studio frantically tries to wrap up expenses. However, it is worth considering that the game has not yet been released (and in some cases is explicitly blocked) in large portions of East Asia, which may constitute roughly half of WoW’s 10 million subscriber base. Oscillating somewhere between a million and two does not seem fatal in this context.

Moreover, the 400k or so lost souls were mostly transients. To an extent, TOR’s public relations strategy is reaping what it had sown by overcounting trials and freebies as active subscriptions. My anecdotal experience corroborates this (and does not match Dr Bartle’s, whose guild apparently crumbled) – some people have unquestionably left, but those who were always seen on the server, getting into groups, talking in public channels, flitting about at new world events have remained, and the perception of community remains nearly unaltered.

I remain highly sympathetic to TOR and cautiously optimistic. Once the team finishes its doling out of pre-designed content while adding quality-of-life improvements, it will have the space to move to innovation again, and it will remain a strong choice for the theme-park MMO seeker for quite a while. In turn, as the makers of Elder Scrolls Online (as good a brand for a new sandbox as one could ask for) have come to realise, the theme-park MMO seeker will probably remain the consumer to get for a long time. As much as I love EVE and the idea of EVE, its solutions are no more applicable to the AAA game than the socioeconomic model of Singapore would be to anything but a city-state, even if its economy is growing fastest in the world.

Categories: Endgame, Other MMOs

Guardian PvP, Quick Endorsement

May 1, 2012 Comments off

Players who frequent the official forums will probably have seen this, but I would like to give props to Ladispute of The Watchmen on The Corsair server for his daily (as long as he keeps it up, at least) Guardian PvP stream:

You may quarrel with some of the things you see, and he readily admits that his pure-defence playstyle will be less effective in pug warzones without at least a couple Watchmen mates. However, the man is personable, polite and committed to Guardian PvP education, answering even the most inane questions patiently on his stream’s chat. We don’t have many resources of this quality for beginners, and we ought to be grateful.

Ladispute runs War Leader gear (yes, with defence/absorb) and his commitment to his deep defence build is endearing, because it captures the essence of what a tank ought to be in PvP. He’s a snaring, guard-switching, cc-ing machine, a node holder/force multiplier without much interest in personal damage. I jumped that ship almost immediately after 1.2, and I stand by the decision, but I do feel compromised by it.

The basic debate over tank PvP specs at the moment is: Hilt Strike + Inner Peace in Defence versus Commanding Awe + Overhead Slash + Force Rush in Vigilance, with Stasis Mastery of course being the pivot everyone takes. I expect Ladispute goes through its motions with freshly-baptised 1.2 CA Guardians daily – I certainly gave him one. To the argument that ranged/melee mitigation is near useless because most classes’ powerful specials are all force/tech attack types, which bypass it, his answer is to do a better job interrupting and ccing damage dealers while retaining the benefits of said mitigation. To the argument that the CA spec provides a huge jump in offensive potential at the cost of very little mitigation loss, he insists that we are better off taking another CC (Hilt Strike) and protecting those classes which can actually deal massive damage. Easy to say, mutters the cynic, when you are assured the presence of players worthy of such single-minded protection in your premades, but it is a wholesome attitude very much in the Soresu spirit.

Anyway, worth checking out the stream, at least for as long as it lasts.

Categories: PvP