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Monthly Archives: April 2012

When a player in an MMO encounters some content that he finds difficult to complete, traditionally there are four ways he can deal with it:

* Go away, gain some levels/better gear and come back to faceroll it;

* Get his mates to join in and zerg it (assuming this isn’t in an instance with limited numbers allowed, of course);

* Hit the forums and whine for the devs to nerf the content;

* Learn to play his character better and beat it with the tools at his disposal.

It struck me, thinking about my experiences in the GW2 beta weekend, that here is a game where options 1 and 2 above are no longer an option. Going away and levelling up is pretty pointless if you’re going to get levelled back down to match the content, and bringing more bodies just makes the opposition tougher – it may even be counterproductive, as there were reports that too many players resulted in overpowered bosses that were one-shotting melee right left and centre (of course, those reports might just be option 3 in action… )

So that leaves pitching a hissy fit on the forums, or rising to the challenge. It’ll be interesting to see how ArenaNet stand up to the “nerf this content” crowd. Of course, it’s also true that players out there have a continuum of ability, and what’s just right or too easy for some will be too hard for others. Since players can’t manage the difficulty themselves by overlevelling or zerging, it’s down to ArenaNet to pitch their difficulty in the right spot for as many of their players as possible. We’ll see how that works.

As we get to the close of the “first” GW2 beta weekend, I feel I’ve seen enough to form a first impression. In that time I’ve taken a Norn warrior to level 13, a human thief to 11, had a brief play around with a charr engineer (to level 4) and a very quick try of the guardian, mesmer and ranger classes – and to do that I had to delete a character (see below).

First of all, the good. The visuals and the music are both deeply impressive – graphics are comparable with Rift rather than WoW or SWTOR’s cartoony style. Combat with all of the characters I tried was fast and fluid, and swapping to a different weapon set up, which has its own set of skills, made for a tangibly different fighting style. The difference between an axe fighter and a sword master is no longer merely “0.3 weapon speed”. The setting is mostly generic fantasyland, but well thought out and immersive – there’s none of WoW’s habit of swinging a wrecking ball at the fourth wall. The capital cities of the three races are huge, feel like cities with all of the NPCs going about the streets, and feature some genuinely awe-inspiring architecture, especially the Norn lodges. If role-playing guilds don’t start holding some proper rounds of toasting and boasting in the Wolf or Raven lodge, I’ll want to know why not. And the automatic levelling down of players to match the area they’re in is pure genius – it means that the entire world is still valid playable content even when you reach level cap, and there’s no worry about seeing some overlevelled guy steamroller through your quest objectives while he power-levels his guildie.

Secondly – the game struck me as evolutionary more than revolutionary. This is not necessarily a criticism of the game, you understand, rather one of the expectations some players seem to have. The combat is fast-paced and you can dodge big attacks, but it’s still got the underlying hot keys and select a target mechanics (which frankly, I prefer to have in this sort of game anyway). The “hearts” on the map are old-fashioned quests in a thin disguise – you don’t have to click on anyone to start them so you get credit for stuff you kill as soon as you’re in the right area, and you can choose between clicking on stuff or killing foozles to advance them, but at the end of the day it’s still clicking on stuff and killing foozles in return for a miserly reward. The events stand firmly on the shoulders of WAR’s public quests and Rift’s rifts and zone invasions – there’s a nice touch in that some events chain into others (fail to “defend the town” for example, and a “recapture the town” event will start soon after). The lack of dedicated healers or anything recognisably like a tank (as there’s no aggro control) means that multiplayer events are primarily a swarm of damage dealers vs the enemy, with a lot of dying on the side of the players as well as the monsters – however, everyone can rez so that it becomes part of the normal ebb and flow of combat. It’s definitely different, but it might seem a bit too zergy for some. I, however, loved it – get in there, lay down some smack, get smacked down, get helped to my feet by a comrade and get back in the enemy’s face. Glorious.

Thirdly, the grumbles. Ignoring all of the “it’s beta” items (Work In Progress stickers – literally – on the cutscenes, a bar keeper called Bar Keeper [CHARNAME] with some placeholder dialogue, and other signs that this game really is actually in development and testing and this isn’t just a marketing exercise), ignoring all that, I only have two grumbles. One is that the voice acting was so-so. Not terrible, but not anywhere near the standard of SWTOR and also I was a bit irritated that every single character had a bland American West Coast accent. Don’t they know that it is a rule of nature, as evidenced by the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, that people in fantasyland have English accents, apart from dwarves, who are of course Scottish? Grumble number two – only five character slots? Seriously? With eight classes and a case of altitis, that’s going to be a major pain.

Conclusion – I like this game. I’m looking forward to playing some more. I’m convinced that the money I spent on a copy was money well spent. But I STILL think there are going to be some bitterly disappointed people spewing venom in places like MMORPG.com when they realise that their paradigm-shifting, brave new world of a game really isn’t.

I still think that the fan hype around GW2 has been so ridiculously over the top that an awful lot of people out there are doomed to crushing disappointment.

On the other hand, if even a fraction of the hype is justified this could still be a good game. I’m going in with more reasonable expectations, I can afford the cost of a game box out of my entertainment budget and it’s not as if I’m going to be stuck with a subscription

On the gripping hand, however, I don’t want to spend more than I have to. So I placed my pre-purchase via Amazon instead of ArenaNet’s website, saving myself ten pounds – but that did mean having to wait for the box to arrive in the post before I could register and start downloading the game. Having left the decision until Wednesday this week, and opting for free delivery (again – I’m cheap… err, economical) Amazon gave me an ETA of next Tuesday, which would mean missing the beta weekend. A pity, but I wasn’t too worried. I have plenty of other games to keep me occupied, between working through SW:ToR with my Bounty Hunter alt, starting to level through LotRO again from scratch, pootling around in Rift as the mood takes me and dipping into both Champions and Star Trek Online just to see what’s changed.

However, fate smiled and when I got home this evening (Friday) the pre-purchase box had arrived. Time to apply that code and start downloading, and I should have some time free over the weekend to start nosing around…

Just musing about the automated group finder function that has spread from WoW to Rift and now to LotRO… while I’m still not really a fan of the dungeon finder and its brethren, I can’t deny the convenience it provides and I’ll admit to gleefully taking advantage of that when I fancy a quick dungeon run as opposed to the old-fashioned method of setting half your evening aside to get a group together. The other interesting quirk of the dungeon finder is that it applies its own criteria of whether your character qualifies for the dungeon in question, which tend to be a lot more forgiving than some players are when they try and put together a PuG manually – a lot of those people shouting out LFM in public chat are asking for specific class combinations that aren’t strictly required, or looking for over-geared or over-levelled characters to make the run go smoother and faster. If those guys won’t take you, chances are the dungeon finder will… and your group will succeed.

With that in mind, there are four groups of players who really benefit from having a dungeon finder and would probably have to skip group content altogether without it:

The Time Poor Player simply doesn’t have the time to stand around while a group forms the old-fashioned way. There’s only so much time free between putting the kids to bed and dinner with the wife. But hey, he doesn’t mind healing and that time is enough to log in, queue as healer and finish the dungeon before the food’s on the table.

“Billy No Mates” doesn’t mind any effect the dungeon finder has on the community, because he’s not bothered about ‘community’ anyway. For the person who likes the ‘lots of people soloing together’ model of MMOs and wants to carry that style over into group content, then an automated LFG is a godsend.

The Asshat wouldn’t get a group any other way. His reputation precedes him. Maybe he’s a loot ninja, or outstandingly incompetent, or a loud-mouthed offensive twat. Whatever the reason, while word of his less-than-endearing qualities may have got around his server, the dungeon finder continues to serve a never-ending buffet of companions who haven’t actively put him on ignore yet. But they will.

The Non-Conformist hasn’t optimised his character. He plays something that’s fun for him, and good enough to get the job done (if he couldn’t hack it and persisted, he’d be an Asshat instead). Maybe he’s a Guardian that insists on filling a DPS role in Overpower instead of tanking like all good Guardians should, or maybe he has some unique and interesting hybrid build. If he asked to join a group, a lot of players who know what’s ‘best’ would refuse him, but if he’s placed into a group he can carry his weight.

Now, of those groups I’d love to find a way of keeping the Asshats out, but truth be told, genuine Asshats are relatively rare and the other groups, each of whom are more numerous, deserve their crack at dungeon content. I still don’t like the dungeon finders – I think they reduce the chance for players to get to know their virtual neighbours and build community, and the anonymity encourages a lot of players into a sort of defensive minor asshattery where for example they roll Need on everything because they’re convinced that the others in the group will do the same to them. Having thought it through, on the other hand, I do think they open up and improve the game for a lot of players and that has to be a good thing.

EVE Online. If you haven’t played it, you’ve certainly heard about it. The longest-growing MMO out there, as Syncaine never tires of telling us – although hardly the FASTEST growing. A game secure in its niche as the only space mining/trading/combat MMO of any consequence, the last, best hope for those of us who gre up playing Elite and want that same sense of a vast universe full of limitless possibilities.

EVE is also the biggest free-for-all PvP sandbox in the Western MMO market. A game where it’s possible to gank newbies if you’re willing to take the (not too onerous) consequences. A game where the cost of BEING ganked can be quite horrific if you’re not careful. A game where the attitude of the dev team is to tell players to “harden the f*** up”. In short, with apologies to Spinks, this is a game for MEN.

For years, EVE has traded on the second niche. Statistics show the vast majority of players never venture out of high-sec space – they’re all enjoying that Elite-style PvE experience. But all of the publicity has been around the great battles and grand betrayals… and about the vicious behaviour of the scammers and suicide gankers who live to “harvest tears”.

Stabs is of the opinion that EVE may have to ‘Trammelise’ and enforce a hard segregation between the PvP wolfpit and the PvE ‘carebear’ experience. Certainly, the prospect of being unwilling asshole-fodder has cost them players who either quit or never took up the game because the cost of having their gaming time ruined for the amusement of some random jerk outweighed the pleasure they would have got from the PvE side of the game. But EVE has been the only real choice for players in both the niches. If Jumpgate Evolution had made it to launch it could have presented a threat in the PvE niche at least… but that’s NetDevil for you. But while EVE is doing well in terms of number of PvP subscribers, it’s not exactly got premier league PvE numbers. There’s every chance it could have a lot more subscribers playing in high-sec if that became a truly safe zone, even if all the hardcore PvPers (many of whom AREN’T suicide gankers and have no wish or intention to go pick on people who want to be left alone) quit in disgust. Contrariwise, if the rate of gankage picks up the minority of gankers will get their jollies at the expense of driving PvE subscribers away.

Trying to be a game in two niches is like trying to be a servant of two masters. Pleasing one is always going to cause problems with the other. EVE has got away with it so far for lack of competition – but if credible competition shows up, or if the two niches come into sharper conflict, then CCP are going to have to make a choice: the hardcore PvP game that the devs obviously personally prefer, or the carebear experience that on all the evidence is actually paying the bills.