Monthly Archives: August 2008

Warhammer Online Preview Weekend

Sometime after my last MMO laden rambling post the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (AKA “WAR”) closed beta’s NDA was officially dropped.

Now, I haven’t actually been all that interested in Warhammer Online despite being a long time Warhammer fan. It just didn’t look too interesting to me and Age of Conan looked a lot more appealing so most of my fanatical anticipation was focused on it instead. With Age of Conan finally out and not looking so hot and more and more details of WAR being released my interest in it had finally started building. So, the NDA dropped and the usual places were absolutely flooded with details, mini-reviews, screenshots, and videos. The buzz about the game from testers was quite positive, surprisingly so for an MMO even, and the more I read about it the more awesome it sounded so, with its release imminent, I bit the bullet preordered it.

One of my preorder bonuses was access to the upcoming open beta so I began downloading and patching the client. Much to my surprise after just trying it by chance it also let me in to last weekend’s “Preview Weekend” event and instantly any hope for a productive weekend went flying out the window.

Scouring various forums for reports and other tidbits it seemed as if the Order side had been vastly outnumbered in beta. This isn’t too surprising as Destruction’s Orcs and Chaos are exceptionally cool while the Order’s races are relatively bland. Still, despite being a fan both Orcs and Chaos myself I typically root for the underdog (I played mostly Horde in WoW for instance) so I made the hard decision to go with Order.

Battling a boss in a public quest. This Dark Elf bastard refused to die.
“Battling a boss in a public quest. This Dark Elf bastard refused to die.”

Next while scoping out the classes I was reminded that several of them were dropped recently, all of which I was at least semi-interested in. I was especially interested in the Orc Choppa and Dwarf Hammerer as I often lean towards melee DPS classes. This didn’t leave too many interesting DPS classes left. I had kind of started leaning towards High Elves early on – now I’m not normally a big fan of Elves but I’ve always thought Warhammer Fantasy Battle‘s High Elves were quite impressive in their long mail coats and their pointy helmets and I, again going with the underdogs, figured they’d be fairly underplayed. At first I was interested in the Swordmaster class, but not being a big fan of tanks I looked elsewhere. Shadow Warriors looked very appealing but my last main (in Age of Conan) was a bow guy and I figured the stereotypical Elf + bow combo would be played out anyway. This didn’t leave much else but after looking at the beta class population data I found a good candidate in the most under played class in the entire game, the High Elf White Lion.

The White Lion is actually not that interesting of a class mechanics-wise. He specializes in melee DPS utilizing medium/light armor and a big, two handed axe and that is basically all they are in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. In Warhammer Online, however, they also have pet lions. So, in a way, you can almost consider this class a weird (but again not necessarily exotic) combination of World of Warcraft’s Hunter without his ranged weapon and some sort of damage dealing warrior class from another RPG. I admit I wasn’t too thrilled about the lion itself – one of the appeals of Hunters in WoW was the ability to tame virtually any animal you wish and here you’d be stuck with the same fluffy white lion as everyone else but the more I thought about it the more the idea of having this second source of damage running around with you appealed to me.

White Lions can be specialized to, basically, use their lions as taunting, damage absorbing tanks while they themselves do more damage with their axes via position attacks, use their lions as damage dealing powerhouses while they tank a bit and assist with the damage, or a more balanced combination of the two which somehow results in a lot of area of effect attacks.

Enjoying the view...
“Enjoying the view…”

Onto the game itself. First of all I’ve got to note that my screenshots here aren’t spectacular – I didn’t see many graphical options in the client and really I was more anxious to play than to squander my limited time tweaking things anyway. Still, I don’t have AA or many other bells and whistles I might normally have turned on.

As far as the graphics go I think they’re pretty fair. The style definitely appears to be similar to World of Warcraft at first, though as many Warhammer fans have pointed out on various forums, Warcraft (and Starcraft) itself has been highly derivative of Games Workshop’s works for a long, long time now so this shouldn’t be any surprise. The models are a little higher poly than WoW’s, the lighting is better, though the overall polish is definitely lacking a little. The draw distance seems quite short, some of the textures aren’t so hot, and the animations sometimes leave a lot to be desired. It definitely (currently) lacks the high production feel of WoW and isn’t anywhere close to as nice looking as Age of Conan. Anyway, the graphics are apparently locked to low right now, and they say they’re going to be improving the animations so hopefully it will only get better from here.

Questing feels quite a lot like WoW although I admit I didn’t read much of the quest fluff as I’m saving it for when the game goes live. A lot of people seem to think its well written though. I don’t think I ran into any very grindy kill or collection quests nor any massively long FedEx quests though which is a good thing. Where the interesting PvE aspect of the game comes in is with Public Quests. Public Quests are kind of like repeatable quests that are tied to a specific area in a zone. The idea being that anyone can quit and join a public quest whenever they want by simply strolling into the area. These quests usually have multiple stages and typically culminate in some kind of a boss fight. At the end of the PQ contribution is calculated and added to a random dice roll to dole out loot. I’ve read quite a lot of whining on forums from who I’m assuming are greedy bastards about how unfair the loot system is but, personally, I think the extreme randomness of it really fits in fine with the casual, come and go as you please nature of participation. Loot aside, you also earn influence which earns you special items and you only need to run a few public quests to max out you influence per area, never mind that you gain plenty of experience points and the loot that drops normally during the course of the quest.

The Tome of Knowledge is pretty damn cool though I didn’t read much of it for the same reason I didn’t read much of the quest text. I do really like the fact that it keeps all kinds of bizarre stats and achievements and, of course, I love the unlockable titles associated with many of them. I definitely plan make full use of this feature in retail.

Fighting another public quest bo... Holy crap, laser eyes!
“Fighting another public quest bo… Holy crap, laser eyes!”

While I did mostly enjoy my White Lion unfortunately the lion’s AI was severely busted. It would usually run off in strange directions, ignore my commands, and attack enemies that had already died the few times that it did actually attack. Apparently it had been working more or less fine shortly before the preview weekend and they’ve since said they know about it and it will be fixed. Still, it was pretty frustrating in PVP when I felt like I was ~30% dps off of what I should have been doing because of it. The mobs weren’t much better and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people will be shocked with how much more challenging the game will be when the mobs are acting a little bit more intelligently.

One negative observation I’ve got to make is the lack of distinctive gear. Gear for the most part seems to be restricted to one particular class and, at least in the first two tiers, there doesn’t seem to be a huge variety in it nor how it looks. On one hand this goes a long way in making sure player characters look like the type of characters they’re supposed to represent which Mythic may feel is important given that they’re representing someone else’s intellectual property. That doesn’t bother me… In fact, I love the fact that I haven’t seen any mismatched, stupid looking clown suits in this game thus far. On the other hand, however, the lack of diversity means that virtually everyone looks the same. Collecting cool looking loot and customizing your character is a big part of most online games these days and I suspect this will be a big deal for many MMO fanatics. Still, rumor has it that the variety is quite a bit better in higher tiers and there’s nothing to stop them from adding more models and textures in later patches.

PvP (or “RvR” which I don’t find to be all that accurate in Warhammer Online’s case either) was interesting. I only got to play in one PvP zone and it was a pretty uneven affair. At first I didn’t see another soul, though I soon wandered up to a fight in progress via the minimap battle markers and joined an open group. Open groups, by the way, are another awesome concept owing to the same kind of thought process that spawned Public Quests. Anyway, at first we dominated. As noted before my lion was fucking useless but my axe is a nice, slow, powerful weapon and absolutely murders casters and other squishy classes. There were other times, however, when the PvP degenerated into huge lines of skirmish with most people on either side being too afraid to directly engage, with the occasional unfortunate individual who did cross the line being mobbed to death quickly. It is definitely very easy to be singled out and drawn away from your group thanks to the character collision system. This is something I’m not sure I’d ever experienced in a game before this. The zone I played in didn’t feature the keep siege warfare though I did visit one of those zones and it did look quite cool. I didn’t get to partake in any “scenarios” (AKA Battlegrounds WoW players) as I sat in queue for one for what must have been an hour. I’m not sure what was up with that!

This time it is someone else's lion acting stupid.
“This time it is someone else’s lion acting stupid.”

A little later inspired by my lion’s continued uselessness and perhaps by my observation of the possible utility of ranged combat in PVP I decided to give the Shadow Warrior class a spin. Once I developed some basic ability rotation techniques it actually surpassed my expectations and was a very fun class to play. I felt like having to switch between long distance and close combat stances felt natural and fun, but the addition of the “skirmish” stance complicated the flow of combat quite a lot and I never did get a hang of using it to kite mobs around effectively. Still, I thought melee combat with my Shadow Warrior was surprisingly effective so I didn’t put as much effort into it as I probably should have. I didn’t get to PVP with the Shadow Warrior but I strongly suspect that I’ll end up making an SW alt in retail.

That about wrapped up my participation in the Preview Weekend. I did eventually acquire the legendary 10/6 PvP gear but I never got to actually test it out in PvP thanks to some things that came up in my schedule and although I played around with other classes/races in the character creator I didn’t get to test any others out. I believe I’ll probably spend the official open beta on trying out some of the other numerous classes just in case something else ends up hooking me and I’ll leave the White Lion and Shadow Warrior alone save for testing the (hopefully) improved lion’s AI. One thing is for sure: I’m really, really looking forward to the launch of this game and having to wait two weeks for open beta is already killing me. 🙂

More MMO madness

You'd think someone with pigtails would be a little more cheerful.
“You’d think someone with pigtails would be a little more cheerful.”

After writing the last article I took a long, detailed look at what had been patched recently in Age of Conan and had been unpleasantly surprised to see that they had done even less than I’d suspected. Until we see some of the new content I mentioned before (which, by the way, still seems a long ways off and sounds like it may not be enough regardless) I remain really quite disappointed in the state of the game. I loaded up a new character to show the game to a friend the other day and after just a minute or two of wandering the beaches whacking bandits and crocodiles I quickly remembered why I liked it so much – the beautiful graphics, the awesome and unique setting, and the fun combat mechanics. 🙁

Lazy screenshot: One of the very first fights in the game.
“Lazy screenshot: One of the very first fights in the game.”

I will definitely be coming back to Age of Conan again at some point in the future unless it ends up closing its doors much earlier than I’d expect. However when I do so it will be to play through with a new character on a new server and more or less as a single player experience with the objective of soaking in the PVE content. This is in sharp contrast to my original plans of attempting to dedicate myself to all aspects of the game (guild membership, PVP, crafting, end game stuff, etc.) for the long term.

That leads me to Tabula Rasa. The game came in the mail soon enough and I started playing it immediately. It really is quite innovative and fresh in a number of ways. Here’s some quick notes:

At first I was a little underwhelmed by it but after getting the hang of it I’ve got to say that I really enjoy the combat. It plays almost like a 3rd person shooter. You’ve got to aim at your target, you’ve got to click to fire, you’ll be reloading your weapons, and sometimes even changing equipment loadouts around, in addition to using special skills here and there, and unlike almost every MMO I’ve ever played combat is typically very quick. I’ve actually found myself wandering around, engaging in combat just for fun.

Enjoying a peaceful moment between massive alien assaults.
“Enjoying a peaceful moment between massive alien assaults.”

I like the way zones are structured. They tend to feel more like large, sandboxy areas, almost like a level in one of the GTA games or its successors. Perhaps that is being a bit too generous but by the time you’re around the middle of the level range for a zone (which is a pretty small range, by the way) you can pretty much go anywhere and do anything. It might not always be easy, but you don’t really run into “fenced off” areas like you did in a lot of older theme park style MMOs.

Each zone also has an associated “targets of opportunity” quest which goes on to help enforce this feeling by providing you with a lot of random, free form objectives such as “kill xxx enemies” and “go to all these different areas”. We’ve also got achievements as well, which earn your character titles and experience, although they tend to fairly boring and very repetitive.

To further this less structured feel of the game every map has some “control point” bases that can be taken over by the enemy mobs in large, chaotic battles. It’s usually in your best interest to defend these bases or help take them back if they’re under enemy control. Again, very free form and surprisingly fun.

I also appreciate the fact the almost all of the content is soloable. You may have to wait a few more levels to run an instance dungeon area solo and it may still be challenging, but it isn’t impossible nor do you have to wait so long to do it that it is no longer be rewarding.

Not actually anything like Mass Effect.
“Not actually anything like Mass Effect.”

On the top of my list of negatives against the game is that despite being innovative and just plain cool in many areas I don’t necessarily feel compelled to keep going through the levels. The zones seem to quickly become repetitive – sure, new areas, new layouts, new enemies even, but the same “targets of opportunity” quests and achievements for each one, the same experience with attacking and defending control points, and the same laundry list of boring quests to work through. The combat isn’t quite fun enough to keep me playing month after month on its own.

The variety of equipment available could be a bit better, with not a ton of different options for visuals, but I dare say that it’s not too bad. Most people tend to wear what has the best stats regardless of visuals anyway.

The class system seems a little on the restrictive side given that every class is more or less restricted to their own types of weapons and armor. Still, coupled with the unique cloning system that lets you make a copy of your character which you can spec differently or even fork into another class, and the fact that none of the classes or equipment feel particularly underpowerered in the first place, its hard to really cite this as a major problem.

The lore doesn’t do much more me. It borders on generic sci-fi and I really feel like it could be a lot more compelling. Some people are really into it though so I’ll chalk that up to personal taste. Still, the whole “logos” system, and indeed “logos” powers themselves do nothing for me. In fact the logos powers are somewhat of a negative to me by themselves – they seem like another attempt to shoehorn magic into a setting that doesn’t need it so that they can compete in a genre filled with fantasy games. What is wrong with just having guns, bombs, and other, more unusual technology? At least to Tabula Rasa’s credit it isn’t 1:1 a magic system disguised as something else like in, say, Anarchy Online.

Apparently future man is still captivated by shiny objects.
“Apparently future man is still captivated by shiny objects.”

Anyway, I’m grasping at straws now. To sum it up, in its current, patched up state, the game has a lot to offer both in terms of entertainment and advancement of the MMORPG genre as a whole. If you’re looking for or even just want to try out another MMORPG that isn’t Everquest inspired fantasy theme park #203 I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot.

I’ll talk more about TR later, I’m sure, as well as possibly write a proper review of it in the future. For now though I’ve had to put it down in anticipation for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning!

AoC and more MMO fun

Ahh, another long, boring rambling post. I’ll definitely try to post some more interesting content and some more pretty pictures soon.

It may finally be time for me to move on from Age of Conan…

Being a fan of the Conan books, movies, comics, etc, I had been keeping an eye on it for a long time though I wasn’t completely enthralled until just a few months before release, after the initial, widely positive reviews of the PVP weekend event started pouring in. I ended up getting into open beta, preordering the collectors edition, and building a new PC in part in anticipation for the game, all in short order. I sought out and joined a PVP guild, who then settled on a server, and the next thing you know many of us were in the game together via the early access promotion days before launch. Things went relatively well at first – the only major hurdle thrown our way being the very, very late announcement that the server we had selected would be subjected to a special, more or less experimental even, set of PVP rules. There was a little bit of discussion but ultimately we decided to stick try it out and see how it went.

Despite all of the complaints waged against it, and the ones I myself are about to note, the game itself was more or less excellent at launch. The first 20 levels, heck, the first 30 or so, were pretty polished. The graphics were excellent, a vast majority of the zones, items, quests, and monsters seemed fine. Everything seemed fine. Sure, there certainly were complaints – client performance was apparently nonexistent for those on the lower end of the system requirements, there were tons of loading screens between areas with more sub-zoning and instancing than typical in an MMO, there were plenty of odd graphical bugs to go around, particularly concerning model clipping, but for the most part the pre-launch doom-sayers had been silenced.

But… That only lasted a few weeks.

It started to become apparent pretty quickly that there was more wrong with the game than as it first appeared. Even disregarding the silly ones (droves of WoW players who have never played any other MMOs wondering why this and that weren’t as they are in WoW, for instance) complaints were numerous and people started leaving in mass. Many of these complaints were quite valid, though I struggle to remember them all now, having not played the game in some time and many of them having been tweaked and fixed since then. Still, some that top my own list:

  • The multiple zones and instances annoy me, not because of the numerous load screens, but instead because of the loss of the feeling of persistence in the world. This is especially true when concerning guild cities. Instead of having guild claimed land scattered across the world, we have 3 instances, each one containing ONLY two cities, mirrored a hundred times. Pretty damn lame! In my opinion instanced housing really misses some of the best parts of the concept of MMO housing and AoC’s is about the worst example I’ve seen. It’d be much more interesting to have to claim a part of a leveling zone or even a much more developed housing zone where people might wander by and your guild’s presence would become an actual part of the world then it is to have the same exact boring plot of land as most other guilds which other players will only visit if they specifically want to. Total failure here.
  • Speaking of guild cities they’re totally sweet… and totally lame. You’re pretty much stuck with one, very limited template for how you want your city to be laid out. This isn’t Shadowbane’s city construction, that’s for sure. Also, at least last time I played around in one, buildings were quite limited in functionality – that is, they were hard to use as structures because they showed up as selectable targets rather than normal scenery, never mind numerous clipping problems and poor overall design. Hopefully these latter issues have been improved by now though.
  • Related to guild cities are the PVP battle keeps which are, as I understand it, surprisingly underwhelming. They’re basically just secondary, conquerable guild cities at the moment, and the whole system is amazingly poorly designed and even more horridly implemented. Very, very buggy and mass PVP is also apparently extremely laggy as well. This has been and will continue to be patched up, I’m sure. Still, this is one of those features that beta testers were sure wouldn’t be in the release game but Funcom insisted it would be… and they were right! But you don’t get too many more bonus points for including a broken, buggy system that is basically unusable than you do by simply leaving it out on my scorecard. Sorry.
  • A lot of people complain about the class balance in AoC. One of the most common complaints, however, tends to come from those coming from other MMOs who expect the stereotypical role based classes – you know: tank, close combat damage, long range damage, healer, buffer, and all that boring crap. I don’t have a problem with AoC’s less traditional classes myself, or, at least I wouldn’t if they’d do a better job balancing the damned things. Some of the classes are a lot more powerful than others, while some are much weaker than they should be. Don’t fret though, because just about all of them are broken in one way or another. For instance, back when I was playing heavily literally every class had feats (think “talents” WoW players!) that either didn’t work as described or simply didn’t work at all.
  • Speaking of broken stuff while gear having intentionally little overall effect is fine by me, when some of the stats and skill increases on these items simply don’t work at all you’ve got to take note. Oh, and skills were pretty humorous (and may still be) with players trying to guess which ones were worth putting points into or not because of what tiny effects most of them had, if any.
  • My biggest point of contention was no doubt the lack of good, consistent leveling content. I don’t know if the level progression simply wasn’t tested well enough, several zones ended up on the cutting room floor, the developers think grinding mobs is a lot of fun, or all of the above, but there simply isn’t enough single player content in the game to level smoothly with. After leaving the tutorial area Tortage you are whisked away to your race’s starting city and adjacent zone. There is plenty to do in most of these areas – quests of all kinds, lots of monsters to see, dungeons to run, in short they’re fairly well done. Soon though, you find yourself done with these zones and nowhere near high enough level to go to the next tier. Instead you have to either grind endlessly or go to other race’s starting zones and do all their now low level quests for more experience. This really weakens the appeal of rolling alts of other races by the way. This is just the start, however, as the last third or so of the game is even more devoid of quests yet unlike the lower levels there are no alternative zones to rely on at that point. I know not everyone feels this way but I pretty much despise pure grinding – nothing gets me bored quicker in an MMO!
  • Finally Funcom has been patching the hell out of the game but at a slower pace than I’d like, with little new content being added since launch. That, and some of the changes and fixes they’ve implemented have been a little heavy handed if not plain illogical. This seems like a good place to also mention the developers communication, like with most MMOs, is pretty unsatisfactory. There are few Funcom employees on the official forums making statements and when they do they’re usually not at all well-informed, patch notes leave out tons of changes, etc. Sadly enough, you know that drill by now if you’re an MMO player.

As for my story, I was enjoying myself pretty well until I got to a place right in the middle of the leveling treadmill, in which I could see the hardcore grind just over the next few levels and with Funcom’s announcement that there would be more leveling content and fixes added in July, decided to take a break until this new content had been delivered. Of course, we’re into early August now and I’m still waiting on some form of significant content patch. Typical and frustrating

In the meantime my guild also imploded – I could see that one coming from a mile away though. The guild was run by three brothers and their, I believe, uncle. The uncle pretty much ran things at first and was a nice, cool guy, if not a little bit naive in the ways of MMOs and guild leadership specifically. The 3 brothers on the other hand weren’t extremely vocal until one of them came out of the woodwork and basically took over. While this dude could be somewhat more abrassive the real shocker was when he took advantage of Funcom’s “hey, it’s an M rated game, we don’t need to moderate!” approach to running their forums and trolled like there was no tomorrow, absolutely stomping what little good reputation our quickly growing guild had in the mud, and gaining us all kinds of enemies in the process. Just what you need when you’re playing on a open PVP server in a game in which “rez killing” has been quickly perfected to an art form. Eventually people started to leave in droves for various reasons, mostly because of the state of the game, though some of our more influential members eventually left because of the aforementioned guild leadership problems. Eventually the forum trolling guild leader in question left the game and those who had flocked to him specifically were soon on their way out as well. In my absence the forums fell entirely silent and I was eventually kicked from the guild. Just today I found out that they merged with another guild and apparently just didn’t bother to tell anyone… *sigh*

I don’t know how long I can really justify keeping my subscription up or the game installed in order to wait for this fabled new content that we were promised. I haven’t played in over a month and while I’ve opened the client on occasion to keep it patched up I simply haven’t felt the urge to actually play… and that is a big problem. Still, I do have somewhat of an attachment to the game and don’t really want to let it go so soon. For all of the complaints I have there are plenty of things I do like about the game – the graphics, game world and lore, the more realistic design of the armor and weapons, the funky classes, the fast leveling, and the unique combat, for instance. If I do decide keep playing I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’d really like to reach level cap and I’d guess I could do it without too much effort but, if I do, I’d prefer to experience whatever new content they add rather than having to grind levels on killing mobs. If I do go back do I want to worry about dealing with all of the PVP madness without a guild having my back, or the trouble of finding a new guild, or should I just reroll on a PVE server and play solo until I’ve gotten my fill? Decisions, decisions.

Anyway, shifting gears, what inspired all of this Age of Conan talk was another MMO entirely. I had just completed watching the entire, extended edition of the Lord of The Rings movie trilogy and thought about how much I’d enjoy going back to try Lord of The Rings Online after not playing it since beta. I enjoyed it at the time and it certainly has gotten quite a lot of content patched in since then, including player housing and some other nifty things. It was fresh on my mind anyway because of the relatively recent announcement of its first expansion, The Mines of Moria, and a rather fetching new collectors edition which includes the original game as well. So, with this new boxed version in mind, I’ve decided I’d wait until it is released sometime later this year to go romping through Middle Earth again.

This whole LoTRO thing had me thinking about other MMOs I’ve yet to try and I soon remembered Tabula Rasa. TR has been a pretty big bomb from what I gather but a lot of people really like it and even many who do not have been impressed by its innovations in the genre. It is still alive and has apparently gotten quite a bit better since its initial release not even a year ago. I had been interested in it since it was first announced that Lord British was back on the scene and no one even had half a clue what TR would be but the first time I got really interested in it was only recently when the collectors edition of the game inexplicitly went on sale at Amazon for less than the price of the normal version, practically nothing, and tons of fence sitters started giving it a try. I had almost nabbed a copy myself but held off figuring the deal would stick around a while. Alas, I was wrong. Curious about its availability, I couldn’t find a cheap copy of the collector’s edition box anywhere until I hit eBay and found one exceptionally low priced and credible looking auction and couldn’t resist. So, it looks like Tabula Rasa is next in line for me!