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Archive for September, 2009

Pick a game, noob

A while back on a forum I frequent, I was met with a post about Warhammer and my casual return to it with the words, ‘pick a game ffs’.

It struck me that this is something I would have said a year or two back in my days of hailing WoW as the One True King, and while I cultivate my WoW addiction to this day, today I would look back to my younger self and posit, ‘wtf’.

Seriously. Pick a game? Why? If I play single player games, do I pick one and stick to that? Er, no, not really. Does anyone? Most single-player gamers usually while away their time juggling a handful of titles. Where’s the rule that says if you play MMO’s, you should stick to only one at a time?

Now, sure, I know that in order to accomplish anything in an MMO requires an inordinate amount of time and dedication to it. Sure, yes. But should that stop you from dipping your toes into other kiddy pools? Nay, I say. I’m always on the hunt for something better. And while I won’t exactly go out of my way to trial every single MMO that releases, if the opportunity presents itself to give something a bash and posit my opinions…why the hell not?

Sometimes, I just don’t get some people.

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RIP ‘Pure’ Classes

This is an issue that came to the forefront of my thought during a recent Ulduar raid when, looking at the raid composition, I noted that the overwhelming majority of the classes represented were hybrids.

Let’s take a look at what the representation should be. Considering that 4 of the 10 classes in WoW are Pure DPS – as in, they can spec for nothing but DPS – every raid should theoretically post a 40% representation of Pure DPS. That’s significant, close to half of what a raid’s numbers should be. It’s clear that the original design intent was that DPS would be filled by these roles and that the roles of Tanks and Healers would be filled by hybrids, being around 30% and 30% respectively.

Instead, what we see today is that the DPS roles are overwhelmingly going to Hybrids as well. In a typical 25man raid you might see as little as 1 or 2 mages, 1 or 2 hunters, and here and there a warlock or rogue. In an Ulduar raid last night I counted exactly 1 warlock, 1 hunter , 1 rogue and zero mage. That’s 3 out of 25 spots filled by pure DPS, and a whopping 12% raid representation. There were easily as many Death Knights alone rounding out those spots.

Something is decidedly out of whack. I think it’s pretty clear that this whole Bring The Player Not The Class initiative has been a dismall failure with regards to DPS. The current WoW class demographic has taken a nosedive towards some rather unhealthy and unbalanced territory, with the combination of Paladin’s and Death Knights account for more than half of the population according to recent census data.

It is with no doubt in my mind that I conclude that Blizzard needs to seriously re-evaluate the viability of pure-DPS. Statements that a ‘well played’ mage or warlock might out-dps a well-played Death Knight of equivalent gear and skill may be true, but even so the margin is usually so small that’s it’s barely noticeable.

Something needs to be done to make people want to play a mage or a warlock or a rogue again. Personally I believe that the lead that pure-DPS have over hybrid-DPS should be noticeable. And while this may enrage many a happy elemental shammy or retribution paladin, you guys should -all other things being equal- always be middle of the pack. Because if it doesn’t happen, we’re looking at a game that’ll degrade to the point that only 60% of the available classes get played at all.

Diversity is one of the things that makes this game fun, and BTPNTC is effectively removing that. After all, why play a squishy rogue when you can play a plate-wearing, bubble-throwing self-healing divine-eye-laser sporting paladin pushing out the same DPS with none of the drawbacks?

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So on Friday I collected my new rig, and it’s something of a beast. Phenom 2 955 Black Edition, 4 gigs of Corsair DDR3 ram(might upgrade that to 8gigs), 4890 Asus Top Edition graphics card (might get another and Crossfire the two) – the whole 9 yards.

Set up was easy. All I had to do was plug the graphics card in, boot up Win7 off the DVD, kick off the installation and about half an hour later punch in some localisation settings, et voila. Windows 7 is a great OS, possibly Microsoft’s best since XP. It picked up all devices and set up drivers for everything bar the graphics card, which needed the latest Catalyst driverset. Even picked up my wireless LAN and configured my network and broadband connection automatically. All in all, the most hassle-free migration to a new system and OS I’ve encountered in ages.

On to Warhammer’s performance, I’ll say this much. Night and day. WAR loves my new CPU and faster ram.Keep sieges with 3+ warbands? No problems, even at 1920×1200 and with specular and whatnot enabled.

The only niggle I ran into is that if you’re running Windows 7, you need to download and install Directx9. While Win7 ships with DX11, it seems Warhammer isn’t quite able to utilise DX9 emulation via DX11 yet. I suppose we can expect that to be fixed in a patch sooner or later.

It does raise the issue about this game’s reliance on hardware though, and when you look at the engine proper, one has to wonder exactly why it needs such a beast of a rig to run acceptably. During RVR we are routinely thrown into situations with dozens and perhaps hundreds of players on screen at the same time. I don’t know of many other games out there that deal with these situations without introducing instancing or phasing or something. When you consider how beautifully detailed WAR’s player and NPC models are up close, things start to make sense. While WAR’s environment rendering might not exactly be that great, the texturing and polycount on my Black Orc is far and away superior to any other MMO I’ve played. So chuck a hundred beautifully rendered guys battling it out amidst all manner of spell effects, and the pieces of this puzzle begin to fit. Thing is, in the midst of such a raging battle, nobody really cares about how pretty they look – what matters then and there is that they’re able to respond to a threat within a reasonable amount of time. And when your game client is running at 3 frames per second, well…that’s anything but reasonable.

I always suspected Warhammer was very, very hardware dependant and my new machine confirms it. I think it’s pretty safe to say, those specs on the back of the box? Ignore them. You need a top-end machine to run WAR acceptably when the custard hits the fan. For PvE a little hardware lag is fine, but in PvP lagging is a frustration that quickly begins to spoil your game experience.

So I wonder how many WoW fans quit WAR in disgust over the past year because their single-core, 2 gig crusty old 8600-based rig simply melted down every time they stepped into an RVR lake? And while patching in a new, lower-specced engine probably isn’t something we’re likely to see Mythic ever consider, it’s becoming cheaper and cheaper for us to contemplate a few upgrades here and there. Perhaps, before writing off WAR as an ugly, unresponsive goblin, give it the resources it needs to be that hulking, mighty giant. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much fun this game is when it’s not commiting suicide against your stone-age era PC. I know I was.

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New PC, same old WAR.

I’ll be picking up my new PC a little later today and spending the weekend tweaking it, setting up some games on it and generally having a geek-out weekend. It’ll give me an opportunity to re-evaluate Warhammer Online and see if switching up from an aging, underspecced machine to something with a little more horsepower (quad core, ddr3 ram, top-end gfx cardc etc) enhances the gameplay experience. See, one of the biggest problems with WAR is that it’s something of a resource hog. While I’ve been able to play almost anything acceptably on my old PC – WoW runs fine and even a couple newer games like Bioshock and COD – there are some odd games with odd engines that simply wouldn’t post acceptable framerates, Warhammer being one of them and Prototype being another. One of the reasons I gave up on WAR was it’s hitchy, spiky performance, particularly in large-scale RvR, and now that I’m back into the game, the shortcomings of it’s laggy engine are once again becoming apparent. While we’ve seen some improvements in performance, WAR continues to be a laggy, overweight drama queen. If this new machine still can’t cope then I’m all out of ideas.

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Once more unto the breach

“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” – Patton

I’m not sure what made me resubscribe to Warhammer Online yesterday, but a few minutes of doing dailies in WoW and then staring at a screen feeling absolutely no compulsion to continue, had me hauling out my credit card and punching the details into into my account profile. After a hefty 900 meg patch to 1.3.1 I logged my Tier 2 Black Orc – Skurm – and proceeded to spend the entire day embroiled in a constant, non-stop roaming battle for control of Tier 2 Empire – versus -Chaos.

A few hours later and I knew I was hooked, again. Even with the game’s persistent faults – primarily hitchy performance when scores of players are battling it out (which is understandable), I was having fun. This was the Warhammer I’d been waiting for. I spent maybe half an hour on PvE and Scenarios and the entire rest of the day in Open RvR. This is where the game positively shines.

So what’s changed? While a lot’s been fixed, it’s still largely the same game but there’s something below the skin, something not immediately visible that makes Warhammer an amazing MMO experience.

To be blunt – the motivation to do battle now exists. Players have very rewarding reasons to level via ORVR as opposed to PVE grinding. The combination of medallions (think Emblems of Conquest in WoW) and RVR influence grant good gear, repeatable keep defense quests as well as repeatable ORVR quests in the warcamps give players very good reasons to hang around in the RVR lakes and it has resulted in a sort of gravity well pulling players into these areas. In the lower Tiers, ORVR has become a resounding success thanks to a a simple formula, one we see echoed in other games: even when you lose, you win. While winning grants you great rewards, even if you don’t win a keep or objective siege the XP and Renown gains are as good if not better than PVE grinding or Scenarios.  For the first time since I started playing way back at launch, ORVR is extremely lucrative – whether I win, lose or draw.

Finally, WAR is about war. Getting in there and getting your hands dirty is what it’s all about. WoW can’t offer me this. It tries, with Wintergrasp, but ultimately it fails. WG is a timed 15 minute zerg every 2 hours, whereas ORVR in WAR can be a 3, 4 or more hour long game of tug of war as Order and Chaos push and pull between keeps and objectives.

While Scenarios and PVE questing exist, they are now 100 percent not the focus of the game. At launch and for a very long while thereafter, they were the fastest way to get xp and gear, and human nature dictates that we take the path of least resistance. In WAR’s case, this path was also not the focus of the game, not the reason for it’s existence. Now, it’s all about ORVR. This does mean that when you aren’t engaged in battle versus the forces of Destruction or Order, that the game can get a little…dreary. The trick is to only use PVE and Scenarios as short bursts of XP/Renown grinding when there’s no ORVR happening. It also means that being on an active server is the single biggest difference between enjoying a great experience and being subjected to a terribad one.

Of course, this is from the perspective of a Tier 2 player, where none of the problems of City Sieges, Fortresses and Land of the Dead ‘RVE’ exist. I’m well aware that I might very well reach level 40 and be left, once more, with a sour taste in my mouth. But for now, the lower Tiers are inordinately fun, and if the new and improved Mythic can fix ORVR in Tiers 1 through 3 and make it all so dang enjoyable, then I have high hopes for what they may be able to do with Tier 4 given a little more time.

Looking at the other options available right now – Champions Online looks like too much of a PVE experience, and Aion too much of a Korean mob grind. In WAR, running headfirst into a slew of enemies and bashing a few skulls before I get mine bashed in is the grind. Tier 2 ORVR feels like I’m embroiled in some massive PVP endgame, yet I’m nowhere near the end. And WoW…let’s just say if you aren’t enjoying raiding, there is very little reason to keep working at it. I tried to PVP in WoW, even enjoyed it for a while, but once you’ve tasted the epic battles of WAR once more, it pales.

So it seems that while everyone else hops onto the new flavour of the month – Champions, Aion, Fallen Earth, I’ll be spending my time out-of-WoW battling for control of Saphery, Praag, and the Chaos Wastes.

In a world of MMO’s, many failed, can this new, largely reinvigorated game succeed? All I can offer is my own personal gut feel which is that, right now, I am enjoying it tremendously, and even if this rekindled fascination lasts for but a month or two, it’ll have been worth it. So, like Snafzg, Skurm rides to WAR once more.

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