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Archive for October, 2009

Aion : Shortest honeymoon ever

Allow me to link The World’s Shortest Aion Review.

This is pretty much how I feel about the game now. It’s ironic, when I started out I thought to myself, ‘hey this is a pretty game and looks pretty solid.” It’s ironic because Warhammer took most people at least a month or even three to lose hope (hope which is slowly returning…). But Aion? I was over it in 3 days.

Take WoW. Remove the Blizzard Secret Recipe. Add a copypasta’d third party graphics engine, some goofy asian design and reduce the world/zone size and content by 200% and you’d be left with Aion. Toss in some extra doses of lag, weird disconnection issues and avatars that all move the same & chant the same words while casting spells etc, and ladle in tons of goldspam and lousy translation/localisation for extra, ahem, ‘flavour’, and this is what you’re left with. A weird, alien mashup ‘mess’ that completely and disastrously fails to inject you into a world. It’s a pretty fun and attractive game, sure, but as a virtual universe for you to spend your hours developing your character and spending time with friends? I just… don’t know. There’s something missing from this game. WoW has it, WAR almost has it (just a pity about the bugs/balancing/etc issues that persisted for way, way too long), but Aion doesn’t.

Scratch away the shiny veneer and you’re left staring at a gaping, pustulant boil of an experience. Save your money, go outside and wait a couple months for Cataclysm or w/e.

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Werit has some video and commentary up on his testing results on the 1.3.2 PTS server, and it looks very, very promising indeed. This may be the swinger, because as much as I’ve enjoyed Aion’s look and feel, some of the quirks and particularly the PVE grinding aspect and tiny, crowded, linear zones do not appeal. The more I play Aion, the more I want to just play WoW instead, and that’s a bit of a problem. Whereas the more I play WAR, the more I wanna go out there and thump skulls. The more I want to play WAR. It’s an entirely different kind of experience, and the only thing holding me back from dedicating more time to it was the bleak outlook of a laggy, unbalanced Tier4. If the performance issues are fixed and if they sort out the AoE balancing…sky’s the limit I think.

But don’ take my word for it – go ‘ave a looksee.

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Patch 3.3 is coming and with it some rebalancing of Unholy, but little else for Death Knights. Meanwhile mages are getting single-stack Scorch and permanent Water Elemental Glyph, among others. It’s increasingly tough for me, from a powergamer point of view, to stick with the DK rather than going back to my mage.

For the past few months it’s been the same, many other classes getting buff after buff while Death Knights get nerfed or ignored. Now, this ain’t a QQ post – most of the DK nerfs to this day have been deserved and the class has needed some finetuning to get it where it is now. And yet one would have expected a lot of angry rerolls by now. I’m sure some have. But DK’s continue to be the most over-represented and popular class in WoW. Why is this, considering it’s no longer the most overpowered class in the game (not by a long shot). In fact, DK’s are posting very poor numbers in Arena PVP, and in PVE they no longer make the best tanks or top DPS.

Three things. Aesthetic, mechanic, and ease of entry. Most people who rolled their first toons, would pick a paladin. And invariably go Ret. The allure of a plate clad spellslinging 2-hander wielding warrior is probably the first thing on any male’s mind when they roll a toon. At least, any powergamer. Pallies seem to have it all – tough, strong, can heal. Death Knights are simply the ‘dark’ paladin of the game and share much of the same aesthetic, except all spooky and evil like. The flip side, mechanic, means that some of the abilities that a DK has, regardless of whether they’re OP or not, are incredibly fun. Most anyone who rolled a DK alt for the first time and Death Gripped something likely immediately fell in love with it. Being a  plate wearer and having a pet also seems like it’s too good to be true. These mechanics of seeming-overpoweredness attract people to the class in droves. Lastly, ease of entry. When picking an alt, being able to pick one 54 levels ahead of any other class is a huge draw card. It’s incredibly hard not to click on that DK icon on the start new character screen.

Death Knights will continute to be the dominant class in Wrath of the Lich King, but with Cataclysm all that may change. Well, at least here’s hoping.

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Aion First Impressions

After yesterdays brief intro to the game and the subsequent bit of gushing, I spent the most part of yesterday playing Aion and getting a better feel for it. Mostly thanks to EU Battle.Net being borked and me not being able to log into WoW. Nice one Blizz.

Anyhoo, Aion is nice. I’m not going to say great. I’m going to say.. nice. It’s quirky and weird in terms of it’s world – this doesn’t really feel like your traditional fantasy MMO even though it clearly is fantasy – perhaps more so than WoW (you won’t find any mechano-hogs for example – no steampunk). The feeling I got was a sort of, Final Fantasy (the single player games) meets WoW. Now, I’ve never played Final Fantasy Online, so I don’t know if Aion bears any resemblance to it.

At any rate, I’m liking the feel. It’s all very pretty. And while I’m loathe to say it’s better than WoW in terms of the looks department – Blizzard still nails texturing and has their own patented stylisation that scrathes a certain itch most of us share – it is deliciously psychedelic. Aion’s developers weren’t afraid to splurge on colour, and as a result one feels like you’re skipping through a magical world of ponies and unicorns while on acid. Except the unicorns are voracious carnivores and there’s likely a legion of Asmodians hiding behind that rainbow waiting for the right moment to jump you and remove your spleen.

I’ll come right out off the bat. This game is not better than WoW. It’s not more polished than WoW. It probably struggles to maintain even the hint of the same ballpark. For an established eastern game (it’s been what, nearly a year now?) this game seems to struggle with it’s netcode (I suffer some rather unpleasant rubberbanding), some text/fonts look broken, and what I’ve seen of the early world thus far looks themeparkish and linear (as opposed to WoW’s Azeroth which has never, ever given me that feeling – as a noob I’d routinely get lost simply exploring the starting areas, not so in Aion). I was also treated to my first queue, a lovely 20 minute wait. Hmmmm.

For it’s foibles, the game gets a lot right. For one, cahracter customization is a blast. I saw some really cool, some really weird looking characters out there. While technically the game sports only 2 races, the degree to which you can customize your avatar means you can create something quite unique. Naturally most people go for the perfect looking prettyboy/girl, but at least the possibility exists for you to play the wildcard. Secondly, animations and movement are top notch. I spoke about ‘stickiness’, and I’ll stick to my guns on that (har har). Lastly, everything just seems to work. I didn’t encounter any broken quests, retarded NPC AI(nothing to write home about but at least it’s functional), server instability, major bugs or anything of the sort. The game is Not A Beta(TM). Whether or not I’d called it polished though, that’s another story. 

I’m in a bit of a quandary right now because I can see myself playing Aion quite a bit, it has grabbed me, something Champions Online simply couldn’t do. On the flip side, I’m still highly invested in WoW, and Mythic has been promising so many good things with Warhammer that I’d like to see them deliver. But 3 MMO’s? Simply unsustainable. Something has to give. Right now it looks like WAR might be the one losing out, but I still have a month of time left, which is coincidentally how much free time I got with my Aion purchase. So the next 30 days decides which of the two, Aion or WAR, becomes my ‘mistress’ MMO.

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And so it is with a heavy heart that I terminate my Warhammer account once more. Temporarily? Permanently? Too early to say.

The reason? Aion. I installed it and patched it today and was immediately impressed. And the reason was simple. It’s like WoW. Yet not. See, the game feels like WoW. It’s the closest I’ve come to experiencing that same ‘stickiness’ that WoW has. It has the same focus on PVE levelling that we all love to hate. And it looks to have a solid PVP potential endgame which may or may not beat Warhammer’s. Where Aion differs is merely it’s flavour, which is sufficiently alien to offer a distinct experience. Everything else about it remains comfortably familiar.

It’s like WASD. Every FPS uses it. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Regardless, it’s probably way too early to gush. Way, waaaay too early. But Aion seems to be the game that, finally, offers every WoW player what they’ve secretly been aching for for years. Something completely different, yet entirely the same.

Whether this game replaces WoW in the near term, for me at least, is probably highly unlikely. In a solid guild and raiding and like where I am. But Aion gives me something else to do when I’m not playing WoW. Something I actually enjoy for the simple fact of enjoying it, rather than trying to prove a point to someone.

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WTB: Onus on Quality.

Google.
Apple.
Mercedes Benz.
Microsoft.

Blizzard.

This might enrage some, but it’s an uncomfortable truth. The above list encapsulates some market-leading brands within their sectors, and Blizzard obviously dominates the MMO sector. Now, there have been many arguments as to why. Some believe that WoW was simply a case of, right place, right time. That’s unlikely, since Everquest had the MMO market pretty much sewn up tight at the time, and along came upstart Blizzard beating them at their own PVE-Grind based game.

No, the truth is much, much simpler. Quality. An absolute, uncompromising focus on quality. And budget. Blizzard was convinced in the superiority of their product. They were confident it would do very, very well, and were willing to invest in that confidence.

Enter today’s entrants into the subscriptions based MMO market. A quick, cursory glance at them will affirm one thing. Most rush unfinished games out the door, and they’re intimidated and unsure of themselves in dealing with the resident 800 pound gorilla.

This needs to change. Everywhere I’ve been reading that the MMO genre needs to branch out, innovate, diversify. I disagree, to an extent. Someone needs to step up to the bat and make a real effort to beat Blizzard at it’s own game. That doesn’t necessarily mean duplicating WoW’s gameplay formula. It means duplicating, bettering their focus on Quality, and developing their confidence. It means creating something so awesome that you’re sure it may unseat the reigning king. It means not compromising, not being happy piddling about in second place. “Winners go home and **** the prom queen”, to borrow a Connery quote.

Small, indie niche games can live quite comfortably in the shadow of the behemoth. In fact, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. But sooner or later we need a true contender to the throne, lest we be swarmed with shoestring budget backyard MMO’s that make no impact exactly because of their miniscule imprint within the genre. Something huge and cool needs to shake up this genre. We don’t need a dozen more tiny games squabbling for table scraps. It lowers the standards of the entire genre as a whole, where trying to build a better WoW raises it. It’s like building tin shacks around a mansion; soon the entire neighbourhood’s real estate value’s gone down the shitter.

We need to take a long, hard look at the status quo and seriously evaluate the accepted notion that WoW is hurting the MMO genre. Is it really? Are you truly fine with paying the same monthly fee for something that doesn’t offer the same quality, quantity, and polish? Whether or not you enjoy WoW’s formula of PVE grinding, that’s not the issue. The issue is, if you’re going to do something, do it right. Too long we’ve accepted sub-par products because we as consumers have adopted the same defeatist attitude as the ones trying to sell their second-bests.

I say, no more. Consider how great WAR could have been had it had the backing it needed from EA instead of being rushed out nowhere near being ready, and then punished for performing poorly as a direct result. I mean, the first thing EA did was fire Q&A staff. Really? Really. Talk about Not Doing It Right.

Time to roll with the big dogs, people.

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Pwnyxia

Yesterday evening, Skurm strode into the new, revamped Onyxia’s Lair with 24 guildmates, confident in spanking that old dragon and grabbing some fat ilvl 245 loots. 5 hours (or so) later he stepped out, armor battered, Titansteel Destroyer shattered, and stumbled his way over to the inn in Orgrimmar to nurse his wounds and bruised ego.

Despite the failure to down her, I felt good about the fight. Incremental progress was made, and it reminded me of the old days of raiding, where progress didn’t happen overnight but took days, even weeks and perhaps months.

The raid itself bore a large amount of QQ and drama, people complaining about strats, people complaining about roles, people complaining about the fact that we didnt just zone in and faceroll her. This game suffers a tad from a number of noobs or perhaps even veterans who have grown accustomed to instant gratification. They should hearken back to the days of squaring off against the Firelord, C’thun, the Patchwerk of old, where weeks of FR gear farming and raiding for epixx – as opposed to badge farming – in order to gear up was needed, and wipe night after wipe night was par for the course rather than the exception to the rule. Gain a little context, folks. Not downing a new boss the first night your guild zones into the raid is, in reality, not the end of the world. Petulant, babyish hissyfits after wiping on only the third ever pull? Seriously? Seriously?

Grow up.

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