Thursday, November 26, 2020

Fire On The Mountain


Everyone else is out there, venturing into the lands of the dead and here am I, plodding through pre-Shadowlands WoW. Not even the cool, new Chromie-time WoW, either. Just plain old no-one likes me I'm the worst expansion ever Cataclysm.

Only I do kind of like it. I finished the whole of the zone storyline in Eastern and Western Plaguelands and thought it was pretty good. That popped me over the limit for most of the expansion but there were a handful of zones that went another five levels so I picked one of those and on I went.

Which is how I ended up spending the last couple of days in Mount Hyjal. WoWHead calls it "the zone most players quest in when starting Cataclysm zones". Yeah, I wouldn't have used the word "zone" twice in one sentence there. Also, a little confused as to how they'd have started in Mt. Hyjal when Cataclysm was new. There was no level-scaling back then, right? Wouldn't it have been high-level? 

Who knows? Ancient history. Whatever. Add it to the pile of things I don't understand about how WoW works. It's a big pile.

I had vaguely heard of Mount Hyjal before but I had no idea where or what it was. I do now, having spent something like ten hours there, and I can't say it's anywhere I'm keen to see again, once I get the hell out. Half of it's on fire and the rest is so undifferentiated and bland you can only imagine being on fire would be an improvement.

The zone storyline is equally uninspired and derivative. It has none of the personality or, indeed, personalities that made the Plaguelands such a pleasure. It's all druids and nature and elemental forces and demons and blah blah blah. How many times are we going to do this dance? Seriously?

I'm tough but I'm fair.

 

That sounds like I hated it. I didn't. It's perfectly fine, in the usage I was decrying the other day. The narrative at least makes sense although the structure is a little unstable. As far as I can tell you can be at the end while still not having done all of the middle but I don't think it matters all that much. 

Also, could we get a moratorium on NPCs giving dire warnings about urgency when in practice you can take all the time you want and it's going to make no difference whatsoever. I mean, I really dislike quests and events with timers but if you say the clock's ticking and it's not it feels even worse.

And anyway, how bad can things be if we're taking time out to save bunnies? About the only memorable NPC in the whole timeline is the self-aware, passive-aggressive, emotionally manipulative, centaur, Mylune. She literally hugs bunnies and makes doe eyes at you if you don't want to join in.

She has a couple of quests, one of which involves catching hyperactive, terrified rabbits and squirrels in a box, the other rescuing injured baby deer. Someone was very clearly having altogether too much fun when they wrote Mylune's lines,a  few of which made me laugh out loud. Fun at whose expense, though? That's the question.

I don't want to question your priorities, but...

I'm guessing Mylune, whose first appearance this is, was a bit of a favorite at the time, either with players or developers, because I see she turns up again in every succeeding expansion. Maybe she's in Shadowlands, too, although I guess she'd have to be dead, which might not quite fit the mood.

Other than that, I couldn't tell you the name of another NPC, even though it's only been a day or two. There was an archdruid who got burned to a crisp. I remember him. He looked like a bear. Well, he looked like a charred black lump but that was after. And there was big turtle who talked in free verse. Other than that I'm blanking.

Oh, wait, there was that snarky guy on the hook! He was fun. They should have given him more screen-time. And the mortal-turned-demon who played us in the most predictable scam ever. He was... well, okay, he was straight from central casting but at least I can remember him. 

Tell me how you really feel, Kristoff.


If the plot wasn't up to much the mechanics did their best to make up for it. There was a fair bit of turning into things which, as has been discussed here before, is something I generally disapprove of but I have to say WoW probably does it better than most. If I'm going to have to turn into a giant owl and fly around blowing a whistle or climb up trees and throw bear cubs into a net I'd rather do it with one simple button to press and the UI doing all the heavy lifting.

I forget exactly what level my vulpera hunter was when she arrived in Mount Hyjal. Thirty-four? Thirty-five? With just one final part of the zone storyline left to complete she's now thirty-nine. I'm hoping to limp her on to forty before we leave but I'm not sure there's quite enough questing left in the tank. 

Still, it's pretty good going. The mobs stopped scaling at thirty five but I can't say I've noticed much of a difference. They don't seem to die any faster than they did a few levels ago. The quest rewards are still mostly upgrades although that's often because of the random roll mechanic. It seems to fire more often than you'd expect, bumping close to half of everything I get by a quality level. Sometimes two.

Wait, so you're saying all that stuff you got me to do that was supposed to help the cause was just to break your bonds and set you free? Wow! I never saw that coming...

 

Xp, though, that's very much beginning to fall behind. Even thought there are other 30-35 zones in Cataclysm, I won't be trying to stretch this experiment any further. I haven't decided yet whether to move to another expansion or go back and have Chromie re-fit the Cataclysmic world to my requirements. 

I'm tempted to move on, partly because I can see doing all of the Cataclysm zones on different characters, but also for the money. The biggest practical difference I've noticed between levelling in older expansions as opposed to newer ones is the amount of gold I make. 

By the time my shaman hit fifty she had around six thousand gold and that was after spending a couple of thousand along the way. She made pretty much all of it in Battle for Azeroth's Vol'Dun, which is, ironically, the vulpera's homeland. By contrast, as she nears forty, the vulpera hunter has barely a thousand gold to her name. I'm thinking maybe it's time for her to go visit the folks for a while or at least do some adventuring closer to home.

I'm feeling kinda woozy. Y'don't think it could be these flowerzzzz....

 

One thing's for sure: in WoW Retail this time around, I've rediscovered my love of levelling for it's own sake. I'm having a great time bringing these characters up through the ranks but I have no clue what to do with any of them when they hit fifty. They're pretty much going straight onto the bench to sit things out while the next up takes a turn. Which is exactly how I played mmorpgs for years.

The exception is the dwarf hunter. He has a garrison to run. He comes out once or twice a day to set missions and check everything's running smoothly. I can already see why this was a feature loved by some and hated by many (or was that the other way around?). Even in its eviscerated state it's demanding. When it was current content it must have bordered on the oppressive.

The main reason I'm sticlking with it is I hear you can make bags. It seems you need to be a tailor to do it. So far I've worked out how to farm the fur and make the cloth. That much I managed by trial and error but I suspect the next stage will require research. 

I'm off to do that now. Expect more redundant news on outdated content no-one cares about any more - as it happens!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

On Repeat


A topic that bubbles up in conversation now and then, when people talk about playing mmorpgs, is the time-consuming nature of the hobby. People occasionally out themselves as addicts or make a point by quoting extraordinary /played statistics running into hundreds or thousannds of hours over a number of years. It's a given that successful, long-running games come with more curated content than most of us are likely to consume even once.

In some ways mmorpgs have more in common with other media than they do with video games, even those that come in series. Single-player games tend to have finite narative arcs that alternate paths and endings merely complement. Almost all non-competetive games have some kind of completion state, whether it's a Game Over screen or a full set of achievements.

It's as well, then, that mmorpgs hang around. When Blizzard's John Hight says of World of Warcraft "Why should it ever end?" he's doing no more than stating the obvious in the form of a rhetorical question. Why indeed? There's no reason. 

In these days of boxed sets and streaming platforms, a long-running mmorpg isn't all that different from a series of movies or a long-running TV show. Time was when you'd need to catch something like that on broadcast or release. Maybe, if you kept your eyes open, you'd get another chance on repeat or rerun or revival. 


 

Nowadays, it's harder to think of things you can't access at will. Even failures and flops live on in a dim half-life, uploaded to YouTube from glitchy VHS cassettes or released back into the culture by creators hoping for another shot at an aesthetic validation they never experienced the first time around. Unsuccessful online games are one of the rare cultural entities that fade and even there, like a superhero's death, you can't count on it lasting.

Jeromai was talking recently about purging games from his hard drives: "I used to just keep the game around… just in case. Well, part of deliberate unfettered gaming is to loose that fetter. UNINSTALLED. Gone from the hard disk. What’s the harm? I can always re-download it again when I get the urge to play it again. The save files are mostly all intelligently maintained or cloud saved these days".

It's true, although I suspect many of us will take a little longer to feel entirely secure in our non-ownership of things we really care not lose. But then, nothing is ever guaranteed. Files corrupt. Disks break. Tapes fade. Even books burn. It's maybe safer in the ether, after all.

The medium isn't the message, anyway. What's stopping all of us going back and doing it over isn't access to the data. It's time.

And playing mmorpgs takes for-frickin'-ever! Even with things on fast-forward, with all the short cuts and the  boosts and the skips. Look at that WoWHead chart I put up yesterday, telling you how long it takes to go from ten to fifty in different expansions. The shortest time is twelve hours. 

Twelve hours!  Twelve hours to get a single character to the old cap, experiencing just a fraction of the basic content of one expansion, from the perspective of one race, one class, one faction. At which point, in the minds of many - possibly most - the game is just about to begin.

Not that most people really are going to get through even that small portion in any twelve hours. It's going to take the average person twice that, I would bet, unless they literally skip the actual content of the content.

Twenty four hours, which is less than it took me to level my shaman, is long enough to watch all three seasons of Stranger Things, something I was doing concurrently with my recent stint in WoW.  It was the disparate experiences that sent me down this track. Also the similarities.

When I finally got around to playing WoW about five years after it arrived I was surprised to find it wasn't at all what I was expecting. I'd heard plenty about it. Plenty. It was a cultural phenomenon and I thought I had a pretty good handle on it despite never having played it.

Yeah, well, I was right and I was wrong. WoW wasn't not what I was expecting but it was much more than I was expecting. It had depth and feeling I hadn't anticipated. It also reminded me very, very strongly of other mmorpgs, some of which I liked better, and yet it didn't disgrace them. In some interesting ways it shed light on them and made me appreciate them even more. And want to play them again. 



Stranger Things is like that. It's not quite the cultural phenomenon WoW was in it's prime but it's the show that made many of us take notice of Netflix as something more than just a distribution service. It had sufficient cultural capital to penetrate the mainstream as a trope, an analogy for a genericized cultural nostalgia, similar to how WoW stood in for nerd culture in general back in that South Park episode and a score more noughties comedies.

I thought I had ST pegged; eighties' nostalgia filtered through a post-nineties' ironic lens. A mash-up of all those Spielberg-influenced, D&D-quoting, kid-friendly movies that themselves referenced a Saturday Morning Pictures culture long forgotten even then. All thrown into a blender with monster-of-the-week hits sequenced all the way from the Outer Limits to the X-Files.

And then I watched it and, like WoW, it turned out to be everything I thought it would be and something entirely different at the same time. Just as WoW, back when I first played it in 2009, was both easy and hard, so Stranger Things is both light and dark. In both cases I went in expecting a frothy, sugar-sweet rush that wouldn't last and came out feeling strangely changed; satisfied yet unsettled; fulfilled yet wanting more.

Good art bounces. Playing World of Warcraft always makes me think of playing EverQuest. It makes me consider what that game did first and did right. It makes me consider what came after and how at least a part of the culture changed because of it and is still changing now.


 

As I was watching Stranger Things I couldn't but help compare it with its preternatural progenitor, Buffy. As in mmorpgs of a certain stripe everything comes back to EQ, so in television shows like this, everything comes back to Buffy but in the case of Stranger Things there are tighter correlations than just that. I could start my dissertation on the touchstones right now. I imagine someone already has. 

What it really makes me want to do, though, is re-watch Buffy from start to end. And I could. I could do that. It would take me six days. If I did nothing else but eat and sleep. Taken at a more realistic pace, five or six episodes a day, I could be through it in a month. 

Which is still a hell of a long time. One day I'll do it but time is growing short. As life passes, things pile up. It's hard enough to keep pace with everything new that's added without revisting and re-evaluating.

Except you have to. You really do. Nothing worth doing is worth doing only once, at least not when it comes to art and culture. It all needs to be looked at again and again, set in context with itself and everything else. The cheese does not stand alone.

One of the more curious effects of this peculiar year for me has been the recovery of my re-reading habit. For many years I re-read as a matter of course. I would often irritate people in pubs with my theory that it's the third time that counts. The first read is all about discovery, the second about comparison. The third is the first clean read. I can elaborate, trust me, but I won't.


 

Working in a bookshop for twenty years broke me of the habit, not intentionally but through the sheer, unceasing torrent of free, new books. I never had time to re-read anything because I had to keep winnowing that pile. This year, for the first time in a long time, at home, surrounded by thousands of books, I started to re-read. And it was good.

Only my rule of three didn't apply so much. I could barely remember having read most of the books in the first place. It was more like reading them for the first time, again. You really need to re-read in real time to keep the doors of perception propped open. Same with movies, TV, music...

And, I guess, mmorpgs? Maybe? I'm not sure. Because we for damn sure aren't likely to start again from scratch and do the whole thing over, are we? I mean, many of us come around a few times. We go back to older games and give them another spin. But it seems to me that's more like playing a few tracks from an old album than reading a whole novel or even sitting through a full movie.

With Shadowlands launching today a whole new layer gets added to the cake. And, trust John Hight, they'll keep adding. Because why in the hell should they ever stop?

But we will. We will stop. Which is why we have to make choices, like Jeromai. What to keep. What to lose. And, for me, what to pick up again, and when, and how many times. How many more times?

I am so going to re-watch Buffy. Maybe I could use the time I'm not using not playing Shadowlands...

Monday, November 23, 2020

Ready Or Not : Shadowlands


Today's the big day, then. Everyone excited? Scornful? Affecting not to notice? Got to be one of those, I guess.

Or maybe it doesn't. I'm still kind of on the fence. I haven't bought Shadowlands. I don't plan on buying it just yet. I might, at some point. Maybe some point soon. Especially if everyone keeps talking about it and makes it sound too interesting to miss.

I just won't be there on day one.

Then again, in a very real way I will. I'll be playing World of Warcraft, anyway. I'm letting my subscription run on for another month. Since I re-subbed in October I've been logging into WoW Retail every day. I usually play for a couple of hours,  sometimes quite a lot more than that, and I've been having plenty of fun doing it. 

I'm going to carry on leveling my vulpera hunter. She dinged thirty-two last night, completing the zone storyline for Plaguelands (East and West, I believe), thereby adding yet another level of confusion and complexity to the already convoluted process, as Shintar will be no doubt be amused to hear.

As we accelerate away from the pre-patch that brought us the Level Squish and Chromie Time, information on how the whole process works is starting to harden up but its a scab I just can't stop picking.  

WoWHead now has a much more detailed and comprehensive guide that clarifies a number of issues of concern. For a start, it makes it very clear that the status quo ante still prevails as the game's default setting. If you don't go speak to Chromie, the pre-patch changes nothing. There's now a big warning near the top of the guide:





That's quite neat. If you were happy with how things were before, fine, just carry on as if nothing happened. Of course, you'll be in a world of your own.

That explains a couple of things, not least why it is that the game forcibly removes you from Chromie Time and teleports you back to your capital city as soon as you hit fifty. It has to or else you'd be out of synch with everyone else. Which you already were, only until then it didn't matter, apparently.

Okay, maybe it doesn't explain it all that well.

It does, however, explain why I couldn't take my mid-forties hunter to Icecrown to level up on the round robin rare event. Why, indeed, there were no rares to be seen when he tried. Also no event and no crowds. He was on Chromie time for Warlords of Draenor and phased accordingly. The whole event literally didn't exist in his timeline.

Another thing the WoWHead guide not only clarifies but codifies is the radical difference in efficiency between the expansions. Leveling from ten to fifty in Warlords of Draenor is estimated to be twice as fast as doing the same in Wrath of the Lich King or the Burning Crusade.






Now that I've levelled one character all the way from creation to cap (well cap-as-was), taken another from forty to fifty and a third from ten into the low thirties, I'd have to say that whether things go too fast or too slow all depends on what you want. Revelations, eh?

When I was trying to get my dwarf hunter to forty-five, then fifty, for specific reasons, even the xp in WoD didn't feel fast enough. I'd have happily pressed a "Be There Now" button just to get to the bit I wanted.

Playing my vulpera hunter, things feel very different. She's not on Chromie Time at all. She just wandered out the gates of Orgrimmar and started exploring.  She's been gawping and gosh-wowing her way across the unfamiliar post-Cataclysm world ever since and frankly it's all going a bit too fast.

There's so much to see. The changes wrought by Cataclysm are widespread and fascinating and thanks to my stint in Classic last year the way the world used to look is fairly fresh in my mind. So far I've barely had a chance to take a detailed look at one small area, the Plaguelands, and she's already in the thirties. 


 

The much bigger problem is that without Chromie Time most of Cataclysm stops scaling at thirty. When this begins to happen it's actually kind of a relief. The "everything matches your level exactly" method of scaling is a mixed blessing at best. 

I find it has a deadening effect over time. Everything feels too similar. I miss being adjust the difficulty level on the fly by choosing to fight mobs lower or higher level than me. Losing that option almost seems to negate the obvious advantages of nothing being too tough to handle.

I hung around in Plaguelands for a couple of levels after things stopped keeping pace just so I could enjoy that feeling of getting more powerful each time I dinged. That's quite a significant element in the levelling process for me. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with the concept of being just about exactly as capable at level thirty as I was at level ten.

You do get more tools in the kit as you level up. That makes a big difference or it does when they're things like Feign Death and Camouflage, which literally change the way the game can be played. Not to mention the upgrades to riding skill, which can also feel game-changing. 

Even so, I think I'd prefer a little more granularity. Maybe if the mobs could all maintain a holding pattern around the character's level, three to five levels either side perhaps, rather than matching it exactly. That might make things feel more nuanced.


 

While everyone else is enjoying Shadowlands I'm going to have to make some choices. If I want to carry on with Cataclysm on my vulpera she's going to have to go visit Chromie to get the whole world reset. 

Although, not right away, I guess. Most Cataclysm zones tap out at thirty but there are a handful that go to thirty-five and even after that presumably there are several more levels where the xp diminishes but doesn't stop completely.  With luck I might stretch things all the way to forty. It would slow down a lot towards the end but would levelling more slowly for a while be such a bad thing?

There is another intriguing possibility. I don't plan on staying subbed indefinitely. Once the EverQuest II expansion arrives I'll probably let the WoW sub lapse. But I do expect to keep playing on the eternal free trial or as it's properly known, the WoW Starter Edition.

It occured to me as I was writing this that, with the way WoW scaling now works, I could cycle a number of characters through not only Cataclysm but all the expansions, eventually seeing everything, without ever having to subscribe again. 

I can't imagine keeping that up. The organization involved would be immense and I'd run through a lot of characters. The free trial does allow you to make a lot of characters, though, so it's possible.  

Or is it? Not according to the official guidelines, it's not. I just checked the support article on the rules and restrictions for the free trial at Battle.net and it says "On the Starter Edition you will not have access to: Expansion content (quests, zones, etc)". WoWHead agrees

Hmm. Is that really true, though? Let's just fact-check it, shall we? It so happens I have an unsubscribed Starter Edition account right here...

... six hours pass ...

Nah, that's not right! They need to rewrite the FAQ. You can level to twenty in any expansion now. I'm as sure as I can be. My Starter Edition goblin just dinged sixteen in Warlords of Draenor. She has her own garrison now. I may have gotten a bit carried away - she was level seven when I logged her in...

I'd have to do a bit more experimenting to see if you can skip the introductory questlines to the expansions. Those give quite a lot of xp so you'd eat up a significant chunk of your twenty levels just getting to the opening zones. I can think of a few fun projects for the future there.

So, Shadowlands is going to have to wait. I have more than enough to keep me busy already.

Make a note of this so you can have a good laugh in a day or two, when I'm posting my first impressions of the expansion I said I wasn't going to get.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thank You For Your Patience: EQII

 

It's most likely not going to feature too highly on anyone's agenda right now, which is just as well because I'm a day late spotting it, but following the recent connectivity issues over at Darkpaw towers there's a bonus weekend going on for EverQuest II. According to Dreamweaver's announcement 

"This special bonus will run from November 20, 2020 at 12:01 AM PST and ends November 23, 2020 at 11:59 PM PST

Live Servers during this time will see

Double XP

Double Ethereal Currency

Limited Time Familiar Drops

Limited Time Mount Drops

Bonus Jadeite Medallion Drops"

For once, Kaladim also gets to join in

"Kaladim during this time frame will see

Double XP

Double Hunters Coins

Double Expansion 5 Loot Drops"

Dreamweaver explains more and answers a number of pertinent queries in the thread, although I notice he remains annoyingly silent on the one question that interests me, namely if and when we might be getting a double status event. As far as I can tell, there's no equivalent bonus event for EverQuest, which tends to support my own experience that the interruption to service there was on a much smaller scale.

Puppets! Get yer puppets! Get 'em while they're hot!


Even before this current bonus, the Heroes Festival had already been extended by a few days to compensate for the outages. I killed a couple of clothworks and found to my surprise there were apparently some associated collections I hadn't done. 

I could have sworn I finished them all last year or the year before but if I did it can't have been on my most-played character, the Berserker. Since the rewards for the easily-completable collects are all mounts (or, I should say, the two I finished before the event ended were, so I'm guessing the others are too), I'm a bit cross with myself for missing out. Just goes to show it's always worth double-checking even when you think you know.

It wasn't even that I was too late to do those collections, the items for which spawn, briefly, after each clothwork "dies". It was more that the puppets take a very, very long time to kill unless there's a good turn-out and by the time I wanted to join in almost everyone else had done their quota and moved on. Maybe next year.

It was Scholar Primarch Rais in the Archives with the Exploded Wand. (It was, in fact!).

 

I did take some advantage of the double xp to put a couple more levels on my Fury this morning, taking her from 89 to almost 92. Given that I had 450% in cumulative bonuses running you might have thought it would have been faster than that but I made the mistake of picking the agnostic version of the Library of Erudin, an excellent dungeon themed around the board game Clue (or Cluedo if you prefer). I spent far more time looking for clues to solve the murder mystery than I did killing things, which wasn't perhaps the most efficient use of the bonuses.

Some people are apparently still having problems logging in, which doesn't surprise me. As long as I've been playing online games a subset of players would have been having problems logging in to any one of them at any given time. The general issue, though, appears to be fixed. 

Until the next thing breaks, that is.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Spaced Out

 

After twenty years and what must be close to a couple of hundred mmo(rpg)s, I still can't resist the lure of something new. Even when I know for absolute certain I'm not going to enjoy it.

It used to be a lot easier back in the days when subscriptions were the norm. I'd apply for just about any beta I heard about but I often wouldn't get in. If I didn't, I'd have to wait for release to decide whether to risk my money. There weren't too many open betas or free trials in the first few years. 

Once World of Warcraft took off and more and more companies clambered onto the bandwagon, or at least chased despairingly after it as it disappeared over the horizon, it started to get easier and easier to try before you buyed. Bought. Damn these irregular past particples.

Even before the free to play revolution got going there was an ever-increasing range of options to satisfy your idle curiosity. Most live games added some kind of trial, usually a couple of weeks, which was plenty long enough to make your mind up whether to pay or walk. 


 

Pre-launch trials of some kind or other became the standard means of promotion. There were beta key giveaways, competitions, trial weekends, open betas. Then before long we were into the era of Kickstarter launches and Early Access, where somehow companies managed to convince us all to pay to test their unfinished games or to give them money before they'd even started making them.

Meanwhile, subscriptions were dying out. Former sub games were converting to hybrid or free to play and almost all new games, no matter their origin, required no more than a registration and a download to play. If you wanted to take a game for a drive around the block you were more than welcome.

Now even that seems old hat. As megacorps compete to control not only the product but the supply chain the battle of the platforms sees triple-A games being handed out like candy at a children's party, with similarly satisfying results.

I have never had even the slightest interest in trying Elite: Dangerous. I already know I cannot stand flight simulators, regardless of the skin. Air, space, water, I don't care. I can't even drive an imaginary car (never could finish the tutorial in The Crew) so what are the chances of me flying a spaceship?


 

Added to that, even if I could manage the controls, computerized space is really boring. Seriously, come on, it is. Does it ever look like anything but a bunch of glowing dots on a computer monitor? I'm a huge advocate of real-life space exploration but no-one ever claimed the bit where you get from one solar system to another would be fun

In space it's the objects that are interesting, not the emptiness they float in. All those great screenshots from EVE Online have planets and stars and spaceships in them, not blackness and a few, distant, barely-twinkling points of light.

So, naturally, as soon as I read that Epic were giving the game away for free I had to try it. I knew I wouldn't like it. I knew I'd never play it. But I had to have it!

 

Okay, it wasn't such a ridiculous idea. I thought much the same about Star Citizen but then I did try it and I liked it. I somehow got to grips with the basic controls. The space station and planet environments were genuinely immersive. Even flying the ship was fun, for a while.

I'd read that E:D has some ground-based content. I thought maybe that at least might be worth a look. Of course, first I'd have to get there...

I'm not going to try and  build up any suspense. I didn't get there. Not even close. And this time it very much was for the want of trying. I had a rush of good sense after a couple of hours and logged out before I could drive myself completely insane.

Those two hours I did spend with the game, they were all in the tutorial. I didn't finish it. 

I nearly did, which surprised me. I got to the very last part. I know that because the annoyingly patronizing examiner, who kept telling me it wasn't a race and I could take as long as I wanted, then nagged at me to go faster every time I slowed down, he told me I was on the final test. 

All he wanted me to do before he'd pass me was blow up an armed drone that could fight back. I'd managed to fly the ship through a twenty-one stage obstacle course, engage the ftl drive, target and destroy some barrels on a space-hulk and even chase down and explode an unarmed drone but I fell at the last hurdle. I couldn't prove I could defend myself.

Technically I didn't fail the tutorial. I just declined to finish it. Unlike The Crew, which I paid money for and still have never played, because completing the tutorial is mandatory and I can't do it, in Elite:Dangerous you do at least get the option to Skip Tutorial.

I took that option gladly but it was pretty obvious to me that if I couldn't even finish the kindergarten stage I wouldn't be getting much further. I was hoping at least to see the E:D version of Star Citizen's very impressive space station but no such luck. There doesn't seem to be one. It looks as though everything happens in the UI. 


 

I got as far as accepting a mission and auto-launching my ship. There I was, staring itno the black, speckled depths of flat, two-dimensional, monitor-space, when I had something of an epiphany: this is not for me.

I'd still like to see the planet-based part of the game, if indeed there is one, but not so much that I'm prepared to learn how fly a spaceship to get there. It's a bit much to ask, isn't it? I mean, when I go on holiday, no-one asks me to fly the plane. 

I guess that's why the game's called Elite:Dangerous not Space Tourist. Shame. Space Tourist sounds like a game I might even pay money for.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Gimme The Loot


When I dinged fifty with my hunter I thought I'd go farm the Icecrown rare circuit for a while. It seemed like the quickest, easiest path to upgrades. And it was, except pretty soon it became obvious his slow flying speed wasn't going to cut it, even before they halved the spawn time.

The Shaman had had the same problem a few days before but she was fortunate enough to have more than enough gold on her from her leveling journey. All she'd had to do was portal back to Orgrimmar and train fast flying. The hunter, despite having been around a decade longer, only had about three thousand gold to his name. Since I hate to leave my characters completely broke I needed to get him at least another couple of thousand.

I spent a while looking at guides on how to make money. Most of them were horribly out of date and those that weren't made it look like a full-time job. I'm already quite deeply invested in making money through the markets in EverQuest. (Had my biggest haul yet this morning, over eight hundred thousand platinum). I definitely don't need to be doing any more of that. 

All I wanted was a fast way to make a couple of thou. Several guides suggested some outdoor spots. That sounded okay. I tried a couple but it took a long time getting there and money came in slower than just doing quests so there didn't seem to be much point carrying on with that. 

I thought about doing dungeons but then I saw one of the guides offering old raids as a quick and dirty way to make minor bank while waiting for your auction millions to start rolling in. It seemed like a plan. Only, how do raids work in WoW? I wouldn't know, obviously. 

I read that up and it was about as confusing as everything else in the game. I was kind of thinking I'd just fly to one of the blue spirals on the map and go in but it seemed that wasn't the way it was done. There was something about LFR and visiting NPCs...

I watched a video on YouTube (which I didn't bookmark and now can't find). It was helpful. All the guy did was go to his Garrison and talk to an NPC. I could do that. I have a Garrison. 


 

At the end the guy apologized that he couldn't be sure if the NPC he'd shown would be where he'd shown him if your Garrison wasn't maxed-out like his was. Or if he'd be there at all. I thought about googling to try and check that but then I thought it would be easier just to go to my Garrison, which is level two, and see for myself.

The NPC was just where I'd seen him in the video. I spoke to him and he gave me a long list of options, none of which meant anything to me. I could see I'd have to start a raid myself to get him to port me but from what I'd read and heard I thought I could begin with a raid of just one: me. 

I wasn't one hundred per cent sure whether other people could warp in and join me once I'd started. I've played games that work that way and it's always weird, when you think you're in a solo instance and suddenly someone pops up and joins in. 

It wouldn't really matter if that happened. We'd all get loot and loot was all I was there for. And its not like anyone ever speaks. Anyway, only way to find out how it worked was to try it, so I did. I picked the first name on the list, started the raid, zoned in and...

Found myself in an arena. It reminded me (a lot) of the one in Deathfist Citadel in EverQuest II. Like really a lot. There was the same layout, the same long speech by the arrogant warlord, the same wait for opponents to come in and brag at you before you killed them.

It went on for what seemed like a long time. There was a lot of talking. Two arena champions down and no loot later and I was starting to think it was going to be a waste of my time, when the whole place came under attack from some massive army and the scene shifted to a city under siege. 

Okay, I get it. The arena part's just scene-setting. Makes sense in a narrative-driven raid structure. I imagine there's some plot leading up to this, or used to be. I'm not interested in any of that. I just want to slaughter mobs for money. 

So I did, only they didn't have any. My experience of soloing old raids or dungeons for cash in other games includes mowing down the trash and pocketing a ton of loose change plus vendor loot. Not in WoW, it seems. Maybe one mob in twenty drops anything and that's just a couple of gold.

On the other hand, everything's a one-shot, more or less. Clearing them out doesn't take up much time and there's always that thing in dungeons and instances where doors only open when everything's dead so probably better to clear than skip. 

I opened the map because I had no clue where to go and there were all the bosses, handily marked. Getting to them wasn't as simple as it looked due to some misleading geography and architecture but it didn't take too long. Killing the bosses went even faster. Not quite one-shot. Maybe three or four.

Took me a bit but I got into the swing of it. Kill the bosses, pocket the loot, leave my own raid to get kicked back to my Garrison, run round the corner, sell all the loot to some vendor, run back and pick the next raid off the list. Rinse, repeat.

I worked through the whole list. One or two of them were awkward. The one where the top floor collapsed and threw me several floors into the basement was annoying. Another I couldn't even find the boss. 

Mostly, though it all went smoothly enough. Each run made me a hundred gold, sometimes twice that. Took me about an hour to make the couple of grand I needed. Then I flew over to the place where they keep the portal to Stormwind, took it, paid for my training and off to Icecrown.

Compared to how this kind of thing works in other mmorpgs I've played I thought it was odd. Certainly far more complicated than I would have thought necessary. I fancy doing the Pandaria raids, which reportedly pay better, but it seems I'd have to go to Pandaria and find an NPC there to set me up.  

That seems fair enough, if you look at this as a virtual world like some (ex-)developers would like you to, but this is hardly that, is it? This is a purely gamelike mechanic that's been specifically added so as to appease the portion of the playerbase that was in the habit of farming dead content for cosmetics before the sequence of recent changes to how levels worked. If it was a virtual world, the raids would scale to level the way the open zones do, wouldn't they?

The whole process felt so weirdly codified and segmented it made me wonder if it wouldn't be easier just to put the whole thing into the UI. With a max level character on your account you could just pull up a list of all the raids prior to the current endgame, pick one and have the loot from all the bosses delivered straight to your bags.

The feature could use the same rng you'd get if you killed the bosses and each raid instance could be on a cooldown equivalent to the average time it takes to clear. The end result could be that players would get the exact same loot in the exact same time but they could run the process in the background while they did something more interesting.

There's a lot gameplay in a lot of mmorpgs that doesn't hold up to close examination but the more I play Retail WoW the more it seems like a whole set of disconnected ideas. When Chris Kaleiki says that "Modern WoW, insofar as it has a vision, is muddled and unclear, even to the developers" (to quote Kaylriene's precis rather than the man himself) he's not kidding.

I'll probably do some more of these "raids". It is a quick and painless way to make as much gold as I'm likely to need and it's fun to see the zones and the cut-scenes. Once. 

The main reason won't be making a habit of it is that I find the way all the the mobs except the bosses drop nothing demoralizing. Also, once again, weird. One of things I noticed as far back as Exile's Reach is that in Azeroth, damn near all the mobs drop loot damn near every time. Why would that stop when you hit raid level?

I'll say this for the palimpsest of conflicting and confusing systems in modern-day WoW - it definitely makes you think. Whether that's the intent is another matter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Truce

It's a bit of a tradition here at Inventory Full to write a review, of sorts, every time I finish a Living Story episode in Guild Wars 2. I've posted something after just about every Living Story/World/Saga update since the game began but I can't remember ever having less to say about one than I do about yesterday's "Champions: Truce".

No-one seems especially stoked this go round. Time was, when a new episode or chapter was looming, you'd hear people talk about it in game. There'd be multiple forum threads speculating on what might be about to happen and I'd read (and write) blog posts fueled by nothing more than the trailer and a heady sense of anticipation.

For a long while now it's been entirely possible to log in and play a full session without hearing even a passing mention of the latest update. It's true I don't hang out much in the metas but there was a time when people in the starting maps talked of little else on patch days and I'd hear commanders in World vs World complaining they couldn't defend a keep because everyone was off doing the Living Story. 

Those days are long gone. All you hear now, if you hear anything, is the odd derisive comment. As for the forums, gone are the multiple discussion threads that Gail Gray used to have to consolidate. Gone too are the official feedback threads that once ran for several pages and had to begin with an official request for posters to keep things brief.

Instead, when I went to the forum today to check if anyone else was having the same trouble with one of the events I was, I had to look twice before I found any threads at all. There's one called "What do you think of the new Living World: Champions? (Spoilers inside)". It has sixty-six comments and it's been viewed thirteen hundred times, which I guess isn't all that bad for an update that hasn't been live for twenty-four hours. Or it's not until you read it.

Not in my house!

 

If I had to summarize the opinion most commonly expressed in the thread in a single word, that word would be meh. Or maybe bleh. 

"About what I had expected. I figured that they had pulled their living world teams to work on the expansion so this was a low effort way to provide content until it releases."

"All in all, I'm actually surprised it's even more bare bones than expected... The only good thing is I can commit my time to other games now this isn't going to demand anything from me."

"I didn't expect much and at least it was not disappointing in that regard."

"It is as bad as we feared... Luckily Shadowlands is right around the corner".

"It's okay. It didn't blow me away and it didn't disappoint me."

"Good idea, bad execution, too tedious."

"...it's underwhelming, even with my expectations low."

Those are probably some of the more positive ones, too. There's a widespread assumption that anything we get between now and the launch of End of Dragons is going to be the work of a skeleton crew trying to cobble something together while ninety-nine per cent of the teams work on the third expansion. We can't expect much and not much is what we're going to get seems to be the general feeling.

There's also a fairly commonly expressed opinion on the forums that the Icebrood Saga has been generally poor in comparison to previous seasons. I'd take this with several buckets of salt because you could have heard a similar sentiment being expressed during every one of the five seasons to date. (It is five, isn't it? Hard to keep track since they keep changing the name).

What does puzzle me is what seems like a growing tendency to compare the Icebrood Saga to Living World Season One. I've read this a number of times, almost always couched as a criticism, but I'm not clear whether the supposed similarity is in the story or the gameplay. 

I can't say I can see much of a correlation in either. I wish I could. I liked Season One well enough at the time, as my contemporary commentary demonstrated, but if I'd known what we were going to get next I'd have positively raved. Scarlet's War seems like a golden age, now.

Is there something you'd like to tell us, Jormag?

 

Perhaps the two seasons do have something in common, even if I'd struggle to articulate exactly what it might be. If I was going to put the seasons in order of preference I'd have Season One at the top but the Icebrood Saga would come next, which does suggest they at least both pander to my personal tastes. 

Does that mean I like this episode, then? Champions? 

Eh, well... I guess... It was... okay. Y'know?

It was surprisingly good to have voice acting back. When we got the first silent episode, courtesy of the pandemic, I quite liked just reading the text but I found I was hearing the familiar actors' voices in my head anyway. The novelty wore off fast. 

I'm not sure I'll go back and replay the last two episodes just to hear the dialog out loud but I definitely will watch it on YouTube if someone edits it all together. A few years back you could have counted on someone doing that. Not so sure anyone's got the motivation any more.

The plot's quite interesting. Some people don't like the very idea that we might be about to team up with an elder dragon, specifically Jormag, but a lot more don't like the way it's being handled. The rationale behind it certainly is vague and confusing but I think that's deliberate. 

Jormag, as Braham points out, is the master of lies. I can't think of a non-binary term for that or I'd have used it. And Taimi, lest we forget, is living with a terminal diagnosis. If she's being less rational than usual... well, come to think of it, how rational is she, ever?

That's sarcasm, right? Just so we're clear.

 

I had more of an issue with the ease with which just about everyone accepted Ryland's assistance. Isn't he subject to some kind of war crime tribunal? Does being Jormag's Champion give him a pass on that? Yeah, well, I guess it does, at that.

The plain fact that I can sit here and discuss this (with myself) a few hours after playing through the episode suggests the story is working better than it has in the past. Sometimes I get to the end of a chapter and can't even remember how it started, let alone how it fits in with what came before. The Icebrood Saga, though, I feel I could write a coherent precis for, if I had to.

Other than the acting and the story, Champions doesn't have much going for it. There's some fairly desultory combat in the early sections and some exceptionally tedious and long-winded slog to get through at the end. Full disclosure, I haven't even done all of that yet.

The episode concludes with three missions using the not very popular "Private/Public" instance format. I tried to do the first solo, supposedly an option, and had to give up due to sheer boredom. There was no risk of me not being able to finish it - it was just going to take me about an hour to kill the boss and I couldn't bring myself to do it.

That, I should add for anyone who might have been reading the patch notes, was after they fixed the bug that made the mission bosses far slower to kill than they were meant to be. What they must have been like before, I don't care to imagine.

Second time around I took the "Public" option and completed the first of the three missions relatively painlessly in about fifteen or twenty minutes. It was still tedious but it was bearable. Put that on the poster!

You noticed?

 

There are two more missions to complete before the chapter can be considered finished and from what I've read they're functionally identical to the first. I'll get them done eventually but I can't say I'm keen. After that I imagine I'll never see them again, even they're supposed to be our repeatable content for the next couple of months.

I believe ArenaNet have done a better job than most of their competitors at keeping older content in play but I suspect we may be reaching a point where they're becoming the victims of their own success. GW2 has a staggering amount of repeatable content now, all of it with its own metas, currencies, dailies and achievements. It's almost self-defeating. If no old content ever goes out of date is that any different from if all of it did?

One thing you don't hear too much of is people complaining about being ripped off. The general feeling, as expressed in some of the forum comments, seems to be that this is about what you can expect for nothing, which is, after all, what we're paying:

"I'm... fine logging in every 2 months or so to check out the story progression"

"I am unsatisfied but on the other hand it was for free, so hey..."

"I've pretty much stuck with logging in on release days and then disappearing till the next. It's honestly more enjoyable that way".

I'm not sure that kind of lack of engagement is what any developer wants to hear but, honestly? It does kind of work for me, too. Sure, I'd love to be swept up and blown away by an mmorpg, the way I was by GW2 itself eight years ago. I just don't expect it any more. 

It's actually quite convenient to get occasional content drops that pique my interest for a day or two - maybe a week if it's really good - then for the game to go on the back burner again. It's not how this hobby used to be but then I'm not the person I was when I discovered it, either. I'm twenty years older for a start.

Maybe we don't get the games we want. Maybe we get the games we deserve. And I'm not sure how many of us have the capacity for engagement we had when the genre was new. Maybe meh is about all we can handle. I mean, when was the last time you heard anyone yell "Woot!" ?

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide