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Monthly Archives: July 2012

The last beta event is done. The clock is counting down, and in just under a month people can be playing Guild Wars 2 ‘for real’ in the head start. I had a blast (quite literally in some cases) playing around last weekend, but as always there was a vocal faction of players who didn’t. So what I’m going to do here is talk first about what I did and saw, and then go on to address a couple of themes from the discontented.

My aim with the weekend was to get a good feel for the two new races and their starter areas, and also to play around with a couple of classes that I hadn’t spent much time with before. First up was a Sylvari Ranger created with the intention of seeing whether a melee ranger was workable, just because I usually prefer playing melee to ranged and wanted to see what my viable options were in GW2. For a ranger, this boiled down to either using a greatsword or a sword with an off-hand weapon. The greatsword skill set included a charge ability and performed quite well as an offensive melee fighter with a pet wolf by my side. The sword sets all lacked a charge to open melee with, which made them less appealing. Main hand sword actually does have a ‘leap to target’ ability but it’s in a chain and can only be used after leaping AWAY from the target. On the other hand, using a hunting horn gives you a ‘have your target be pecked to death by a flock of birds’ skill that is just too priceless to pass up on 🙂 As for the Sylvari themselves… well, I can see where Bhagpuss is coming from when he calls them cabbage elves but I thought they had enough individuality and character to stand on their own. Sylvari names and culture have an Arthurian-meets-celtic vibe that works well in my view, and made an old DAoC Hibernian feel right at home.

The second character I made was an Asura Engineer. I ended up spending the majority of my gaming time over the weekend with little Ishi Morik, reaching level 19 and completing all of the personal story steps available in the beta weekend, because playing her was just so much fun. The engineer class was a bit of a slow burner for me – it starts off with very limited weapon choice – pistol/pistol, pistol/shield or rifle and that’s your lot. Once you start unlocking utility skills though… each one is a wonderful gadget, some of which are actually new weapons that when activated replace your weapon skills with a complete new set such as a belt full of grenades or my personal favourite, the flamethrower. Other skills can place gun turrets or mines (proximity or command detonated), or utility devices such as rocket boots that launch you backwards out of melee and break crowd control on you. The look and feel of all of the Engineer toys is very steampunk/WoW Engineering, whereas the asura zones themselves have a more advanced magitech theme to them – stuff that looks like sleek science fiction tech but is powered by their mastery of magic as a technology, with golems as robot servants everywhere in Rata Sum and Metrica Province. It actually gave me a very Star Wars sort of feel, which combined with the ancient jungle ruins they have converted into labs made them look like the mad scientists of Yavin 4. The asura are definitely not, in my opinion, a knock-off of WoW’s gnomes (who were a shameless rip-off of Dragonlance gnomes anyway). They’re a short race in a fantasy world with the trappings of technology, but that’s the end of the similarity. Gnomes are buffoons with impractical steampunk contraptions that you just know are bound to fail in a catastrophic and amusing manner. Asura are snarky, sarcastic geniuses whose tech looks sleek and actually works most of the time. While there are plenty of ‘device gone wrong’ stories around the asura zones, in most cases the devices malfunction because of deliberate sabotage, not incompetent design – when you have a bunch of snarky, sarcastic geniuses locked in rivalry to prove whose genius is greater, some of them are not going to play fair. The NPC chatter in the zone is hilarious to listen to, as the racial sport seems to be scoring points off each other. They’re the Frasier of fantasy races to gnomes’ Three Stooges. I would also say that, as Azuriel noted they can run the gamut from looking very cute with their big eyes and floppy ears to faces that would give Gollum nightmares… but then one of the cute ones will open its mouth long enough to see the rows of sharp, pointed teeth. Maybe they’re just a race of wee harmless bunny rabbits .

Lastly, I made a Norn Warrior and gained a few levels, partly to play with the character creation options ready for my planned live character and also so I could walk him into Hoelbrak and try a game of Keg Brawl. The last is a fun sport of grabbing the kegs that appear on a frozen lake and getting them to your team’s keg collecting NPC. Your skills are replaced with a set of unarmed moves, and a different set if you’re holding a keg. None of these deal damage to the target, but they can knock them down, steal a keg they’re holding or daze them and stop them from using their skills, so it’s a rowdy but non-lethal sport. Unlike certain other games, GW2 offers no in-game rewards for playing Keg Brawl – there’s no rep to grind, no gear to earn, just a few achievements. It’s there to be played for fun and no other reason. Doing stuff in an MMO just because it’s fun is going to be a strange and alien idea for some players, but I hope it catches on enough that there will be a Keg Brawl running whenever I want to kick back, relax, and punt an asura across an ice lake.

As for the complaints this beta weekend, well after tuning out the thinly-disguised ‘make my character more powerful’ pleas from those who want class X or skill Y buffed, the two most common themes were ‘the game’s too easy now’ and ‘it’s all a talentless zergfest’. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to take names to see if the ‘it’s too easy’ crowd were the same folks saying the game was too hard in beta weekends 1 and 2 🙂 What I can say is that the low-level experience didn’t feel massively nerfed to me and I certainly was running intgo encounters and events that weren’t trivial to overcome; that things did seem to go a bit more smoothly for me but I attributed that to having had some practice with it this time around; and it’s hard to judge these things from a starter zone that’s supposed to be acting as a learning experience by design. If you make your game ONLY FOR TEH HARDCORE right out of the newbie gate you may well delight a handful of people who are already familiar with that genre and thrive on their games being difficult and challenging. You will, however, alienate those who are not used to that type of game already, those who aren’t as able to play well and those who are just looking for a more relaxed leisure experience. By all means make sure that the game does include challenges for players who want to prove themselves best of the best, but demanding that the game drives away the majority of paying customers at the outset isn’t a recipe for a long-lived, well-supported game.

The ‘talentless zergfest’ thing seems to be solidifying around the idea that because the ‘holy trinity’ set-up of tank/healer/DPS doesn’t apply, and because dynamic events allow all and sundry to pile in rather than having fixed size raids, that the game can only consist of slack-jawed idiots spamming buttons at random until the monsters fall beneath their tidal wave of sheer numbers. To be honest, I think Syl over at Raging Monkeys has covered all of this quite thoroughly, and most of what I have to say is in the comments thread over there. All I’ll say here is that you can have cooperation without hyper-specialisation, and that it may well be that GW2 does in fact have only one player role – adventurer – that kills enemies AND backs up his teammates by using his skills to best effect. Different adventurers each bring different skills to the party so the exact details of how each person fills that role will vary, but ultimately it’s variations on a theme rather than the stark divide seen in, for example, WoW.

Finally, and still on the topic of the ‘holy trinity’, Assinine Comment of the Week award goes to the gloriously named Cheesybites76, commenting over at Massively. Elisabeth Cardy’s article mentioned how she joined a dungeon run where everyone was asked to spec as DPS, to prove that you could do the run without a dedicated tank or healer. Well duh, I hear you say – in a game where it’s impossible to build a character that can fill the role of dedicated tank (stand there and keep getting hit indefinitely) or healer (focused solely on keeping said tank alive), that’s the way your going to build your group. According to Mr Fromage, however, “The very fact that the author was asked to “spec” for anything is highly indicative of the fact that a relevant portion of this game’s community already realize that yes, you will need to adjust your build/traits and so forth in order to get different things done.” So there you have it – if some players ask you not to spec as a dedicated healer, that is proof that dedicated healers do actually exist, ArenaNet have lied and the rest of us are just deluded. Thank you, good night and good luck!

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We’re all familiar these days with MMOs that are free to play, and others that still rely on the good old subscription model. Depending on which MMOs you follow, you might also have encountered the ‘lifetime subscription’ model as well – where you pay a large, one-off fee and then have all of the benefits of the monthly subscription without having to shell out an ongoing payment. If you plan on playing the same game for several years it’s a good deal, as long as you don’t get yourself banned (thus flushing your $200 investment in access to the game down the pan) and as long as the game is still running… because lifetime is probably going to mean “lifetime of the game” rather than your lifetime, unless you’re terminally unlucky. This proved problematic for the poor souls who bought lifetime subs to Hellgate London and only got a little over a year’s use out of them, but the games that I have lifetime subs to – LotRO, Champions Online and Star Trek Online – are still up and running, and whilst all three games have gone F2P I continue to get full subscriber access and associated goodies.

Unfortunately, as a friend of mine who shall be known henceforth as Player X discovered, even if you don’t go and get yourself banned then at least in LOtRO’s case, lifetime doesn’t always mean lifetime.

Player X is a friend and a colleague of mine, and he and his wife have both played MMOs about as long as I have (over ten years), albeit usually out of phase – they’ll be playing one game while I’m levelling up in another, and by the time they start in on that game I’ve levelled well beyond them or moved on to something else. We’ll mail goodies to each other’s low-level characters, and chat about the games, but I think the last time we actually grouped together was in City of Heroes back before WoW even launched. Player X picked up a collector’s edition copy of LotRO, complete with a lifetime sub, not too long after it launched based at least in part on my recommendation. However, he was still having fun levelling ten alts simultaneously in WoW so while I switched to LOtRO as my main game he only occasionally dipped in to play his starter characters around The Shire and Bree. But hey, that’s not a problem because that sort of dipping in and out is fine with a lifetime sub. Your account remains active without causing a guilt attack that you’ve wasted the price of a cinema ticket by not logging in that month.

Time passed. Player X got caught up in being a WoW auction house goblin, and found that his computer’s ageing graphics card struggled with playing LotRO, so he didn’t log in at all for a long time. Meanwhile, the European LotRO servers were transferred from the control of Codemasters, who had initially published the game over here, to Turbine who developed the game and ran the North American servers. The EU servers, characters and accounts all went over to Turbine without too much of a hitch, and those of us who played LotRO happily carried on playing.

And then, earlier this year, Player X found the obscene piles of WoW gold were losing their allure, and finally got his finger out and replaced that graphics card. So, since he had a lifetime subscription to LOtRO, he figured he’d go and play that for a while. He couldn’t remember his password, he needed a reminder of which server his characters were on, and the account was associated with an email address he no longer used or had access to – but that’s what customer service is for. He still had a lifetime subscription, so once Turbine retrieved his details for him he could dive in and play.

Err, no. It took a number of emails back and forth, but eventually a horrible truth emerged. When the accounts were migrated from Codemasters to Turbine, players had to log in and give permission for their details to be transferred. There was a window of about 5 months to do this, which had ended in November 2011. Player X had missed the boat, his data was not on Turbine’s systems and no longer available from Codemasters. So that was that. His lifetime subscription with Codemasters was gone and no corresponding one with Turbine had been created. The last email he got from Turbine’s customer support stated that “We cannot assist you with reinstating a subscription plan purchased with Codemasters. Feel free to create a new account through the LOTRO web site.” Great – he can “feel free” go and create a free to play account, just like anybody else, without any of the VIP benefits that he had paid for, and which I do continue to get because I actually read my email and gave permission for the transfer. Unsurprisingly, Player X is sufficiently hacked off by what he regards as the snarky tone of that last response that he’s sworn off playing any games from Turbine.

Now, I don’t really blame Turbine for this. EU data protection laws being what they are, there’s no way to legally send customer details and billing information out of the EU to the US without permission of the customer, who was contacted to ask his permission – via an email account he no longer used, but that’s arguably his fault for not updating his account details… but on the other hand, they were account details for a game he wasn’t actively playing at the time. And we can’t really be surprised if those details are no longer available from Codemasters over a year after their franchise ended. However, I do feel the classy response from Turbine would have been to comp Player X a new lifetime sub account. He might have lost his (low-level) characters and the piles of unspent Turbine Points, but going forward he’d be able to play LotRO as he’d paid for, and it would have turned into a great customer service story instead of one about a player permanently put off a company’s products by a snarky response.

In other news, Player X has finally given Rift a try and is now levelling up a couple of characters, just in time for me to decamp from Rift and SWTOR to Guild Wars 2. Some things never change 🙂

Firstly, a tip of the hat to Spinks for a post that discusses this all very well, and the only reason I’m writing one of my own is that I think my reaction is going to be a bit long-winded to sit comfortably in her comments section.

Secondly, a quick apology to an anonymous friend of mine who has passed on an issue that definitely deserves blogging about, and I will do, but I’m still mulling over exactly how to tackle it. Yes, you can take that as a teaser trailer if you’re so inclined.

And with that, on to the main event – that Blizzard are ‘admitting’ that Diablo 3’s endgame is lacking, and players are discussing GW2’s lack of a proper (or at least traditional… or maybe at least traditional if you’ve only played Everquest and WoW) endgame. Just as an aside, I personally am not all that fond of the term endgame and prefer to refer to what you do after levelling as the ‘elder game’. Endgame smacks of an objective, something desirable to be reached and which makes all of the stuff leading up to that point a chore to be gotten out of the way. Elder game seems a more neutral term for “well, I enjoyed the levelling but that’s the last ding, now what?” However, as almost everybody else talks about it as endgame, I guess I’d better use the term as well.

I’m a little surprised at Blizzard worrying about the Diablo 3 endgame. MMOs have endgame, but MMOs are designed to be played indefinitely and so the world and its story have a structure that supports this. Diablo 3 is structured like a single player RPG, which means it has a finite arc. You play it through once, on normal, to see the story and the settings. You then play through again on increasing levels of difficulty to finish levelling up, and to prove that you’re skilled enough to beat the game on inferno difficulty, which satisfies the achiever impulse. And that’s it. With Baldur’s Gate or Fallout or Diablo 2, at this point you would put the game away until the expansion pack or sequel came out, and move on to something new. Because an MMO is a virtual world that acts as a framework for stories and can easily support more story being added, whilst a game like this is crafted to be a story unto itself, with a beginning, a middle and an end. That story can be more than one run through the narrative, because it’s got the design to be the story of how I got to level 60 and beat Diablo on Inferno. But once that story is done, it cannot easily be extended, just succeeded by the next story. Once you’ve got your Diablo-killing level 60, carrying on with that character is only going to appeal to those who dream of making some cash from the auction house… and that’s not a game, it’s a dreadfully low-wage job.

As for Guild Wars 2 – well, it certainly doesn’t have a raiding endgame with gear progression like EQ, WoW or most of their progeny. However, my MMO background is from Dark Age of Camelot which didn’t really rely on that stuff either, so I’m a lot more relaxed about it. The key question is – what can I do once I’m finished with levelling and the personal story in GW2? Will there be enough to keep me occupied for a while instead of deciding that I’ve finished with the game? In my view, there are at least two positive answers to that question. The World Vs World content is the closest thing to DAoC’s frontiers at least since Warhammer Online, and as DAoC kept me entertained for several years I would say that WvW has at least a chance of also becoming a long-term form of entertainment. And the nature of the game’s dynamic events and level-scaling means that I could spend a long time wandering Tyria looking for PvE adventure and still keep encountering new stuff that’s a fair challenge, especially if ArenaNet keep their promise of having a live team that constantly mixes up the events so things don’t get set into a rut.

EQ and WoW put raiding on a pedestal as ‘the’ endgame, but raiding as it stands today primarily appeals to the Achiever Bartle type. PvE raids never offered much enjoyment for a Killer, and the way raids are organised now has little for either Socialisers (with ever-smaller raid sizes) or Explorers (who are told to go look the strategies up on YouTube rather than figure out their own). GW2 has more than enough to keep levelcapped Killers and Explorers happy, at least. If WoW can succeed by offering an endgame for one Bartle type, I’m pretty sure GW2 stands a fighting chance by trying to offer enough for two of them.

Yes, ArenaNet have confirmed that the next and final GW2 beta weekend will open up the Asura and Sylvari races.

Excellent news for me, as I’ll have a chance to play these reaces and get a proper feel for them before picking music for my GW2 alternative soundtrack (as if anyone’s actually interested in that 🙂

Continuing to pick a soundtrack for each of Guid Wars 2’s races, next up is humanity. Unlike the humans of many other fantasy worlds, Tyria’s humans are not the masters of the universe but rather have been driven almost to the brink of extinction. So many of their kingdoms are gone, leaving only Kryta, and while humanity remain devout followers of the gods, those gods have withdrawn from day-to-day intervention. Mankind may still have the faith, courage and dogged tenacity to stand and fight against the threats assailing them from all sides, but it’s easy to believe that even as races like the charr and the sylvari are on the rise, the humans may well be a dying race, doomed to fade away.

To evoke the combination of faith and bravery shown by GW2’s humans, I’ve opted for tracks by Globus – a project by the trailer music company Immediate Music that takes their tracks and rearranges them, with lyrics, to create what can only be described as epic rock. The three tracks I’ve chosen – the thundering battlefield hymn Preliator, the slower and more spiritual Diem Ex Dei and the defiant Europa – are all from their first album Epicon, but there are some highly suitable tracks on last year’s second album Break From This World as well (especially Elegy)

So… Guild Wars 2. August 28th. The wait for a date is over, even if the wait for that date still has nearly two months to run. I’m OK with that, I’ve got more than enough on my plate between my LotRO Burglar project (now level 48 and beating my head against Book 7 Chapter 8 of the Shadows of Angmar epic storyline, AKA The Quest Where Lorniel Insists On Getting Herself Killed Before She’s Supposed To), dabbling in SWTOR and Rift, the simple joy of driving a Tiger tank in World of Tanks and going through, ah, interesting times in my day job.

Anyway, in the run up to the GW2 launch, I thought it would be fun to pick an alternative soundtrack for the game. Not that there’s anything wrong with the GW2 soundtrack – in fact it’s very good, Jeremy Soule being almost as fantastic as his fans think he is, which is to say the epitome of epic music, a title I hold reserved for E.S. Posthumus, Two Steps From Hell and Immediate Music. I will however admit that Mr Soule is a very close runner-up behind those three, though. Anyway, my challenge to myself is to pick some music for each of the five player races in the game, with the following rules:

* At least three tracks per race
* Only one artist or band per race
* Can’t use the same artist for two different races

With that in mind, the first selection is for the Charr, the race I refer to as the crazy kzinti, kilrathi, klingon combat cats from hell. A militaristic race who live and die in their assigned warbands, whose main pleasures apart from of course fighting are meat, whiskey, cameraderie and the gallows humour of combat veterans. They give no quarter, they ask for none, and they’ll keep on fighting and winning until the day they lose and they die.

The music I’ve selected comes from the soundtrack for an old Westwood RTS game, Emperor: Battle For Dune. This game came with an album’s worth of soundtrack for each of the three main factions in the game, and with a different composer for each of them ensuring a very different musical feel for each. House Harkonnen, in my opinion, got the best of the draw with David Arkenstone producing a roaring industrial rock soundtrack that is as triumphant and ruthless as both the Harkonnens and the Charr.