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Archive for November, 2009

Apparently I missed the week old memo (posted November 17th) that Emblems of Triumph will be replacing Emblems of Conquest in 3.3, releasing in 2 weeks time.

Now, technically, this is no different to what Blizzard did when they replaced Emblems of Heroism with Emblems of Conquest, a change which was well received by the general populace. I have no doubt that this change will again be well received by the majority – at least initially. However, this time around as one of those relatively well-geared raiders who worked for their Triumph emblems, the fact that 14 days from now all those weeks of wiping for hours on Faction Champions 25 will become moot allows me to see this issue from the raiders point of view, for once. And this time around, I am not exactly too approving.

Personally I think it’s too soon. I’m generally in approval of raising the floor every now and then, but there’s a problem right here and now in that heroic instances – tweaked for fresh 80’s in blues – will now grant the ability to gear up in Tier 9. The problem is twofold – most people are already well geared up and blitz through heroics in minutes with no cc or, increasingly, even healing needed. Without increasing the difficulty of Heroics at least somewhat proportionately or offering a more challenging mode which drops Triumph emblems, the rate at which emblems are going to be acquired is going to accelerate. Combine that with Cross Realm LFG and the removal of the limitation of only being able to run so many Heroics in one day, means that dedicating an inordinate amount of time for a few consecutive days will allow people to gear up in full Tier 9 in a matter of days. It’s too much, too soon.

Now, take into context the forced gating of Icecrown Citadel, and we have the following situation potentially playing out: a week after patchday people have rapidly geared up. They defeat the first boss or two and walk into a false wall, instead of a difficulty based one. So on the one hand Blizzard is handing out free loot, and on the other hand they’re building brick walls that no amount of the phattest of loot will be able to progress beyond.

Contrast that with past idealogy of increasingly difficult content that you had to painstakingly farm loot in order to be able to beat. It’s easy to see why the hardcore are leaving. A cute mount and some achievements from hard modes are no longer enough to keep them around. WoW has always been about having better gear than thy neighbour, but new-WoW is looking increasingly uniformist by the day.

As a self-admitted casual raider, I supported this change of idealogy in the past, but now I’m approaching the point where, even as a ultra-casual raider, I’m overgearing too quickly and looking at hitting firewalls that no amount of gearing or grinding can accomplish. One has to beg the question, how noob friendly is the game when even a complete casual such as myself is beginning to complain about the same issue that those hardcore elitists have been for just about a year now?

I believe this approach is rapidly becoming the wrong one, and bodes ill for the future. There is a line which should not be crossed, a threshold which should be carefully examined. It increasingly looks like Blizzard have adopted the attitude of free loots for all, without even trying to pretend that there be a large gear disparity between the noobs and the ‘core. Welfare epix can be a great motivator for casual gamers, but older and wiser people have told me that Balance is key, and Everything in Moderation. There is nothing moderate about raising the floor to being 2 inches from the ceiling. That doesn’t give anyone much room to stand.

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The Thin Red Line

I have a new theory. Related to an earlier post, where I asked, do we even need MMO’s?

Perhaps the question wasn’t need. Rather. Want. Do we really want them?

My theory is that this year saw quite a bit of interest in MMO’s in the PC gaming sector because it was a bad year for anything else. Look like the big guns, EA and Activision, were holding out on everyone, waiting to play their hand in time for the holiday season. This left the MMO industry as the only players launching new stuff prior to end of year.

My theory is that most MMO gamers aren’t as one dimensional as people seem to think. We generally don’t obsess solely about our WoWs, our EvEs, our Aions and our Champions. We like to play the field. That’s why a lot of us try a lot of MMO’s, and it’s also why we’re seeing a lot of blogging about non-MMO related gaming on typically MMO centric blogs of late.

My theory is a simple one. We just like good games. And there have been a dearth of them on the PC platform lately, causing us to sample all these MMO’s. MMO’s that probably wouldn’t have otherwise caused us to bat an eyelid. Had, say, Modern Warfare 2 launched at the same time Champions Online did, no-one would have cared a less about Cryptics little niche game. Launching these MMO’s in dry spells created hype that otherwise would simply not have existed. And I think the likes of Cryptic know this. They know that the demographic isn’t strictly divided down some line between MMO gamers and non-MMO gamers.

 

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How to get more tanks in WoW

Tanks. A perennial shortage. A new tank-capable class didn’t fix the shortage. Dual-specialization did little to address the lack of role. So what now?

First up is to analyze why. Now, most people would blame it on Protection being poor for solo PVE, and while I’d normally agree, Dual-specs changed the landscape. A tank can now hop into his DPS spec and off he goes butchering mobs aplenty. So this can’t be the problem. The next logical conclusion is that tanking is too hard. But in reality, it’s easier than ever. Bar a few really challenging gimmick fights, there really shouldn’t be any reason no-one would want to tank heroics. They’re faceroll territory.

There are two reasons, I believe, that tanks are still rare. One, they need two vastly different sets of gear. Contrast this with caster dps/healer hybrids, which can share many pieces of loot between roles. It’s clear that something similiar needs to happen with tanks. There should be less of a need to stack defense, for example. Being able to switch to a prot spec while utilising much of your current DPS ghear would go a long way to making tanking much more accesible to the common man.

The second reason is PVP. Despite some strides, tank specs still perform poorly in PVP in WoW. PVP has become all about burst damage, cc and heals. Now, obviously, you can’t give tanks burst damage. But I think WoW could take a lesson from WAR, and consider making tanks better at CC and perhaps damage prevention. Tanks in WAr had a buff they could place on a friendly player that would divert a percentage of damage taken by that player to the tank. Coupled with the powerful CC that WAR’s tanks have – knockbacks and knockdowns and powerful, debilitating debuffs – made tanks in WAR highly valuable in RVR. There’s little reason I can think of that the same cannot be done for WoW.

Fact is, many if not most WoW players tend to dabble in both PVE and PVP, and the type of playstyle that they enjoy in PVP is generally echoed in their PVE gameplay. DPS is relevant in PVP. Healing is downright godly in PVP. But tanking is rubbish. This is a huge disparity, one that needs to be addressed.

 

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Ego

Ego. A simple word. It’s also the biggest reason WoW remains such a runaway success. In WoW, every action you take is done in an effort to inflate your ego. Gear, Recount meters, being the Best Tank(TM), etc. Everything else takes a back seat to the all important Ego.

People complain about the old content being outdated? What made it outdated? The mechanics are still the same, and at the appropriate level they’re still a challenge. The simple reality? People won’t go back and do old content – no matter how amazing it is – for the simple reason that doing so inflates their ego in no way. No gear upgrades. No phat lewts that make your e-peen that fraction of an inch larger. No cool, exclusive mount to flaunt. I’ll bet 50 bucks if Heroic Dungeons and Riads didn’t drop the better loot and extra badges, that they wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as popular as they are.

Again I realised that human nature is all too often an ugly, evil, selfish thing. Something as simple as petulant human greed can invalidate so much quality content, so much hard work, and so much potential fun to be had. So many new players wil lgo through this game never experiencing the awesome of facing down the Firelord or battling the Old God of Death. Why? Because there’s nothing in it for them? Apparently, cool experiences are no longer enough. Then again, have they ever been? The fact that Blizzard even got away with ToC, a single-roomed bland 10mx10m square block of grey as a raid encounter, illustrates this so clearly, so matter-of-fact poignantly. The reality is that Blizzard could, in the here and now, package a box of excrement and the general public would eat it up. As long as it dropped Fat EpixXxXx…

Today, in re-realising this, I lost a bit of the sense of wonder and magic of World of warcraft. And it’s nobodies fault but our own. Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride. Oh yes, we’ve got the bases covered, yes sir. And it’s a tragedy of sorts. There’s nothing noble in our fascination with this game. We like to think we indulge out of a sense of community. To help our fellow man. To progress as a team. To fight great evils buried beneath the earth. But when the chips are down.. when you scratch away the gloss, it’s only the ugliness of humanities most basic evils that oozes through.  All in the pursuit of Ego.

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WAR, the next Tabula Rasa?

Well, the news hit the fan yesterday so to speak, with word of Mythic losing 80 personnel, around 40% of it’s staff, to layoffs courteousy of EA aka The Great Satan. Word in the grapevine is that this compromises a large chunk of people responsible for content, and that the RvR MMORPG is going into ‘maintenance mode’.

I believe this is a death knell for the game. An MMORPG without constant injections of new content is an MMORPG that is effectively a Dead Man Walking. The reality is that most of WAR’s subscribers are already bored of the existing content. What the game needed now, as soon as the major bugs and issues got fixed – which they were – was an expansion. A third playable faction (Skaven or something), the readdition of the missing capitals, and an overhaul of the PVE (more Gunbads and Lost Vales, a lot more) to bring it in line or at least close to something like WoW or LotrO.

But that won’t happen now. With Mythic losing effectively almost half of it’s workforce, the writing’s on the wall. In fact, I expect the studio to simply be absorbed into Bioware sooner or later. Great for Bioware, bad for the rest of us still hoping to see a resurgence of WAR.

I guess it looks like I’ll be letting my subscription lapse once more. This time, it looks like it’ll be the last time. The final nail in the coffin.

GG EA, what we really need, after all, is more Madden. Amirite?

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It seems, to me at least, that this holiday season seems destined to be bereft of new-mmo-goodness. The titles we were all looking forward to (and which have, arguably, dissapointed in delivering what they promised) have been released, have been running a month or two, and there is little to look forward to for the remainder of ’09. On the flip side, we’re facing a deluge of quality single player content. Borderlands, Dragon Age:Origins, Torchlight, Modern Warfare 2 and much, much more coming up have resulted in many seasoned mmo vets hanging up their grinding-boots and having a go at a good old solo adventuring.

It seems to me that MMORPG’s tend to capitalise on the between times, those hollow stretches of time in between the latest and greatest, glitzy big names in the gaming industry releasing their latest testaments to cinematic storytelling and gorgeous graphics. Am I on to something here? Is there a reason that almost every MMO I can think of in recent history, has released just prior to the end of year or well before Spring Break etc, instead of smack in the middle? The only title I can think of that bucked the trend, was Wrath of the Lich King. It really does seem that, as much press as MMO gaming gets these days, unless you’re playing WoW, the genre remains something of a niche, grabbing at the coattails of big daddy Xbox/PS3. We’ve still got a looooong way to go.

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So I recently clambered aboard the Borderlands bandwagon, a little late but better than never. It’s too early to do a review, and frankly there’s little point – everyone loves this gem of a game. But I will say this : Borderlands oozes fun and addictability.

And of course, multiplayer. You can experience Borderlands in 4 player persistent co-op and enjoy a complete romp through the campaign with between 1 and 3 other friends.

And the thought struck me. Why do we even need to play MMORPG’s in a world where a game like Borderlands exists? Think about it. Most of the time we play MMO’s solo while levelling. When we group up, group sizes are usually around 5 to 6 people. With Borderlands, we can enjoy a group experience of 4 people, all the time. And we can do it while enjoying all the regular draws of playing an MMORPG. Phat loot upgrades. Levelups and XP. Customizable skill trees. Quests. (Re-)Spawning mobs. Everything. Borderlands plays like an MMORPG in first person perspective… except it’s not. In many ways, it’s better. It has no subscription fee. It has an offline single player mode. And by it’s very nature, you can exclude all the random idiots that plague MMORPG’s.

So, why do we play MMORPG’s, when we could boot up Borderlands, grab a couple of friends and hook up online or even over LAN? The only conclusion I could come to is that MMO’s give us three things. (1) Endless replayability and almost limitless lifetime. (2) A community larger than merely a small group of friends. (3) And competitiveness. My Axe is Bigger/Purpler than Yours.

With Borderlands, You’d finish the campaign co-op and probably never give the game a second thought, and if your buddies aren’t available you’re kinda left to your own devices. And there’s a lack of e-peen because once the ride’s over.. what’s the point? All the game needs to rectify all of these, though, is an ‘official’ ladder mode ala Diablo via Battle.Net, complete with an ‘LFG’ lobby system where you could hook up with people in your level range online. Hell the game has it’s own form of gladiatorial PVP. Implement ranks and pvp ladder, and you’d suddenly give people a reason to keep at it, keep grinding more levels, better gear. It’s really simple. Diablo was an online multiplayer smash hit for decades. It had no crafting. No massively multiplayer open world. No fancy quests. But it had that whole ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ vibe along with reasons to compete that seeps from every orifice of an MMO like WoW. If Borderlands had that…I for one would find little reason to log back into Azeroth.

And this is why I think that Diablo 3 and Battle.Net 2.0 is going to have a major impact not only on WoW’s subscription rates, but the MMO industry as a whole. I think Borderlands already might have, but none have really realised or acknowledged it.  Have we possibly witnessed the birth of a precedent? Of a new age? I think we may have. I’ll go out on a limb here – if, in a couple months, maybe a year or two, we find ourselves spoilt for choice for co-op rpg games? I’ll point to this post.

“Massively Multiplayer”? I think, maybe, it’s overrated.

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