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Archive for January, 2013

Thoughts on the Occasion of TESO Beta

January 26, 2013 Comments off

My time in SW:TOR has been serene and pleasant, if a little uneventful lately. The Guardian main’s health pool was not quite where I’d like it to be by current standards, and so I’ve spent some time grinding out the last War Hero’s Elusive mods to swap in. As an alternative to warzones, I am slowly plinking at the storylines of two alts – the Marauder and a Sorcerer. I enjoy the subversive nature of doing good on the former, and the comedy of unadulterated evil on the latter… evil backed up by an excellent damage dealer’s toolbox, even at the underdeveloped stage. I’ve always known in theory why the sorcies were so good at tearing me apart, but it is quite another thing to place one’s own hands on the controls.

Earlier in the week, however, a stone broke the surface of the pond: ZeniMax opened up the TESO beta.

I tossed my name into the hat, and it got me thinking about this next big themepark with a solid IP, and the first which had the benefit of drawing lessons from the roller-coaster ridden by the MMO industry in 2012.

For one thing, it is worth underscoring yet again that The Elder Scrolls Online is a themepark. I can think of no other modern brand that would lend itself better to a sandbox treatment, but here we are nonetheless. The themepark customer is the one being sought and, I suspect, will continue to be sought by the industry this year and beyond.

The predecessor from which TESO borrows most heavily is undoubtedly Guild Wars 2. Three factions. GW2-heart-like questing paradigm. Public quests with instanced loot. Weapon-based skill system. Reduced number of active abilities, radically-increased emphasis on their correct situational use. ‘Vignettes’ rewarding thorough exploration of the world.

Fully voiced quests, though. You’re welcome.

TESO-specific innovations include a single world (as opposed to realms/shards) with players assigned intelligently to phases based on a preferred-activity questionnaire they filled out (“eHarmony”, quipped a friend), guild allegiance and others they find themselves grouping with generally. To be honest, I am not happy with this, and not just because they’re injecting a Facebook/Twitter angle into it. I know that some people consider their existing friends’ list the only relevant social filter, but I like servers. I like the idea of meeting strangers in the wild in a persistent world and emergent server communities with distinct flavours. At least with a game like EVE, players, corps and alliances do end up sorting themselves geographically (astrographically?) anyway, achieving the effect of local colour. This, though? 15%RP/20%PvE/35%PvP/30%Exploration Phase represent!

Having staked out their single-shard position, ZeniMax immediately backtracks, sorting players who wish to participate in TESO’s Cyrodiil open-PvP area into separate campaigns which will be named after Tamriel’s cities, and sound awfully like realms. Each campaign will last for months and culminate in the capture of the Ruby Throne.

Cyrodiil sounds interesting, as such things always do when described by developers. Of course, one could describe the original Alterac Valley in WoW in similar language – paths for individuals, small groups and large groups to contribute to victory, some involving PvE rather than direct PvP activities, opportunities for asymmetrical warfare. What ends up happening in practice involves large zergs circling the area, desultorily gobbling up objectives and smaller groups of stragglers, and the most direct, uninventive route to victory (dare one say: path of least resistance?) being pursued with remarkable tunnel vision.

That said, it is going to be a huge Oblivion-sized map, and the campaign will be long term, so perhaps it will pan out differently this time. Some of the top men on the developer team come from Mythic, with DAoC experience, which may have a bearing on Cyrodiil’s design, but that lineage has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, downplayed by the team itself.

Another potentially refreshing feature of TESO is the emphasis on mob AI, which is supposed to be very aware of its surroundings and think synergistically. So, mobs attacking a fighter might try to kite him, whereas the same mobs might rush a caster; or they might assume tank and dps roles. Players are, it is said, going to get greater opportunities than in previous games for combining their class abilities intelligently, too. On top of all this, if I understand correctly, one gets directly rewarded for how skillfully one fought any mob, so even if you are alone, staying out of the fire gets you better loot or xp. Rewarding merit is always welcome, and it might break up the monotony of mob-grinding that sometimes afflicts WoW-likes, including my MMO of choice.

Incidentally, the Tamriel Foundry has done excellent work in compiling and maintaining early information on the game, so I take the liberty of outsourcing my sourcing to that splendid collection of fanatics.

While I have not yet played this game, and a lot of my notions of how it will play may be wildly off the mark, I do think it is fair to lump it together with Guild Wars 2 as part of a push-back against the WoW model. It reminds me of the recent fleeting fashion in American political commentary, which is to talk about how Bill Clinton’s acceptance of the Reagan rightward paradigm shift validated it as a true inflection point, whereas President Obama’s reversal has yet to be similarly entrenched. If there is something to the notion that a rival’s appropriation of one’s ideas is their best affirmation, then Guild Wars 2 may gain a little more credibility as genre-changer with TESO’s release.

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Categories: Other MMOs, PvP

The Coin Shop or Mind Tricks Don’t-a Work On Me, Only Money!

January 18, 2013 5 comments

I am rather late to the party with this, but I have been playing my pureblood Marauder alt a little to get reacquainted with the environment and mechanics of the game. Haven’t been doing too much of my usual ‘why, yes, I can beat this ludicrous challenge if I keep the footwork flawless and Vette twirls her lekku at the right moment!’ headbutting of walls, either. As a result of the leisurely pace, there was plenty of time to notice and mentally dwell on the footprints of the cash shop. In summary: deep and tramply.

When SW:TOR F2P was introduced, I wrote that I am prepared to make peace with the shop unless it encroaches upon in-game achievement, by which I meant too much pay-to-win and short-circuiting of systems like valor and legacy which represent long-term player goals. At the time, I had been a little too idealistic to even anticipate the pay-to-breathe element or the impact on the economy. The strategy appears to be to target primarily people levelling through the stories and to inconvenience them enough that they give in and buy the necessities of everyday life. A dangerous game to play.

However, there is one property of the system which restrains me from pouring unalloyed scorn. All of the items one can obtain through the coin shop unbind after a certain period of time and become resellable, providing a very direct conversion from real currency to in-game currency. I had not anticipated that, either, and I am not entirely sure what to think about it yet.

On the one hand, every time I passed through the fleet, the only trade advertisements were for unbound shop items. The sums I have seen tossed about were on the order of several million credits per fashion item, which is far removed from the income of ordinary gameplay (especially given F2P inventory/storage/crafting limitations) and if it goes on like that, we’re going to need Stones of Jordan. On the other hand, certain utility unlocks and authorisations (like Quickbars and bank access) can be found on the GTN for entirely reasonable prices. I am guessing that some appear as undesirable chaff in ‘booster pack’ type packages which people are encouraged to buy for a chance at rare cosmetic items, and some are put on the market by gambling-averse fashion hounds (probably also subscribers) who prefer to convert coins to credits and buy their desirables directly.

Thus, an enterprising F2Per can make life reasonably (and permanently) comfortable for themselves using solely in-game currency, and a subscriber can help out a buddy with their spare coins. Even as a subscriber myself, I bought the new Section X content authorisation for credits, just because the price was very accessible to my main. Piecemeal PLEX in SW:TOR? Sure, why not. Shame that marketing is so quiet about this flexibility.

On a positive note, and whenever I manage to distract myself away from these meta-concerns, the game is as entertaining as always. I really ought to be sorting out Sullas and getting some warzones going on, but I have fallen victim to the TOR occupational hazard of getting hooked on a storyline. The Warrior’s second companion was a minor surprise to me, and I can get used to a little crisp competence around the place. On my Knight, I had to wait for that until Rusk came along.

Categories: Uncategorized

Floating With The Rest Of The Garbage

January 6, 2013 Comments off

I have not really been moved to write much lately, partly because I have not been playing TOR very much. I had gone back on my strict disavowals and clocked ten weeks of Mists of Pandaria before quitting permanently again. And for the past month or so, I have not been finding myself in a particularly MMO-friendly frame of mind.

The WoW thing was a spur of the moment decision when I learned that a friend was starting a new guild, and I do not regret it. I was in good company and had fun despite the game’s systems and flavour. I could write a long screed about everything that I found wanting, but instead, I’ll recommend this report by the venerable Big Bear Butt, whose blog I remember enjoying back when I was a young, hopeful beartank myself, obscene AR was king, and Swipe was a 3-target cone AoE.

That daily/weekly routine BBB describes did get old, quickly. I was probably not doing myself any favours trying to keep three characters in shape, either. Suffice it to say I am glad it is over, and I salute anyone able to maintain a positive adapt-and-overcome attitude toward the experience.

Since leaving the damned pandas behind, I have been playing a fair bit of Borderlands 2 co-op, checked out Torchlight 2, dug out Deus Ex: HR from the bought-ages-ago-on-Steam collection. I am told that F2P has revitalised the remaining collection of SW:TOR’s servers, and some time in the coming days I will probably hop back on. As a matter of principle, even though I am subbed, I am far from happy with the aggressive monetisation strategy leveraged against the preferred and free-playing customers – like drastic character limits and the infamous UI restrictions. I want to look forward to new, good things in the game, what with the expansion coming up, and all, but the tawdriness is getting to me a little.

Categories: Other MMOs, Uncategorized