Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Oh, Why Won't You Just Die Already?! : GW2, TSW, WildStar

Here at Inventory Full we don't do "Quote of the Day" posts but if we did Syp's plaintive cry would be a hot contender:

"Really, my combat attitude is, “I want to point at something and make it die with minimum fuss.

I often get that feeling and rarely more so than after this last weekend in which I "enjoyed" six instanced, solo boss fights.

My travails against The Presenter have already been documented. Next there were the two parts of Tassi's encounter with Bloody Prince Eddie, first taking him out of his box and then putting him back. That one I did on both accounts because I wanted the Candy Corn Cobs to spend on kittens and pails.

Then there was the final fight with The Shadow of The Dragon in the Pale Tree's sanctum, which concludes the last episode of The Living Story. I did that months ago on one account, when it was new, and it was so teeth-grindingly tedious I have been putting off doing it on the second account ever since. Mrs Bhagpuss still hasn't done her second run, she hated it so much the first time round.

With the next episode dropping today, though, I thought I'd better get it over with. It was even worse than I remembered.

Here's the problem: all four of the fights use the same basic mechanic. They have something happen. Then it stops and another thing happens. Then the first thing happens again. Then the second. That cycle then continues until a win condition is achieved, usually either a set number of rotations completed or a sufficient amount of damage done to The Boss; often both.

If it's all the same to you, Rox, I'll stay out here with Taimi.

The first rotation can be quite exciting: you don't know what's coming and you have to react, counter, learn. The second rotation can be quite satisfying: you know what to do, now you just have to do it. From then on it's all down hill. Or should that be up hill?

There are generally two ways the fight can go from that point. The bad version is that the same fight just goes on and on for as long as it takes you to complete it. Doesn't matter if or  how often you die; you just respawn and run back to a fight that remains in the same state you left it. In the very bad version, if you die, the instance resets and you have to start over from the beginning.

I am blessed as a player of MMOs in that I have not one tiny jot of the Completionist gene. If I'm not enjoying something I can easily stop, leave and never come back. I don't feel any nagging pressure to finish anything in a video game. If it isn't entertaining me it can go die in a ditch. I can still get irritated by having wasted whatever time I have already spent on a futile exercise, though, and solo instances that reset when you fail them are deeply irritating.

Tassi's instances do that. Fortunately I found them reasonably easy to complete without dying so I only had to endure one reset on four runs. The Presenter also resets, as does every instanced boss I can think of in TSW. That's why I have never finished the Tyler Freeborn sequence and gave up somewhere near the end of the 29 steps in the main sequence storyline quest, when I hit a fight I couldn't finish.

Fat lot of help you were, Pwincess.

I might go back to those two now I have better gear, come to think of it. I'm a big fan of overgearing or overleveling to get past annoying roadblocks. It's one of the things I most like about MMOs and one of the reasons I am such a fan of expansions that raise the level cap. Usually I reserve that kind of behavior for soloing or duoing content originally intended for groups, though. Such tactics really shouldn't be necessary to finish content intended to be soloed.

Of the two designs, solo boss fights that just grind on and on until you win are the lesser of two evils. At least you know you will only ever have to do them once. They are, however, if anything, even more idiotic in terms of design. Think about it. The designer has created a fight in which the outcome is never in doubt. You know you are going through the motions and he knows it too but through those motions you just have to go. After you've died a few times the utter pointless of what you are doing gets kind of rubbed in your face. That's bound to leave a good feeling.

All of the instances I did this weekend were designed as solo battles although you can group for all of them if you wish. Other than the Living Story episode they are all holiday content too, which you might imagine would be intended primarily to entertain rather than challenge. Assuming a basic level of competence and averagely-appropriate gear most players won't find them overly-challenging in terms of DPS checks or skill. Any problems I was having turned out to be either from unpreparedness or inattention.

I was still using sub-par gear on my re-match with The Presenter. I'd yet to go to B&D (TSW's combined bank and auction house) to sort out my gear deficiencies (See previous comment thread for details). Even I, however, badly-equipped and fresh from a very long lay-off, was able to knock him off air without too much trouble once I'd jimmied my build. That, even without noticing I was meant to smash the radios that were spawning all the ghosts, something that didn't occur to me  until I was writing the previous paragraph. Shame I didn't think of it at the time but I didn't actually notice the damn radios until the fight was over.

Ahem. I digress.

Yes, well, if you hadn't opened it in the first place...

So, the problem here isn't with difficulty. Nor is it with the length of the fights per se. Back in the glory days of Everquest all fights went on and on and mostly I liked it. The difference from my perspective is that a) almost all of those fights were straight-up, no scripts, drag-out beat-downs and b) we did them largely standing still. At its best combat in EQ achieved a knd of zen-like calm. In contrast, as Syp has been finding out over in WildStar, an endless diet of dodging telegraphs and rolling around can get tiring. Fast.

Open world combat in GW2 is, ironically, some of the least fatiguing and most enjoyable I've encountered in an MMO. It's nice to have the freedom to dodge and strafe, all guns blazing, but if you're feeling tired or lazy you can stand still and make progress just fine. The problem of fatigue only really arises in set-piece fights. In WildStar, as Syp tells it, there's no relief from the pressure: "Every fight is some sort of small epic war played out on a tiny battlefield".

There was a fascinating link on Massively yesterday to a series of employee reviews of Carbine's management practices. A number of times the point is made that WildStar is a great IP if only management knew what to do with it but I suspect that even stellar management would have struggled to interest a mass-market audience in "sketchy endgame content chained to a long defunct business model sneeringly aimed at a demographic that no longer exists" to quote one of the anonymous Carbine employees on the thread.

Carbine talked up their fast-moving combat style a lot before launch. Trion barely mentioned theirs when promoting ArcheAge. The localized Korean import garnered huge attention for all sorts of reasons but the best thing I've heard people say about the combat mechanics is that they're functional. It's tab-targeting of the old school and no-one is going to rave about how innovative or exciting it is.

I could just have watched it on YouTube you know.

The people who are excited by AA are excited by the virtual world and the possibilities it opens up. Probably the most successful MMO of the last year or two has been FFXIV: ARR, another stand&cast, tab target conservative. The poster-child for twitter quests, telegraphs and hyperactivity, meanwhile, is on the ropes.

I worry for EQNext. Having scrapped what was probably a traditional tab-target MMO and retooled for the new ARPG revolution, by the time the game finally appears in 2016 or 2017 will SOE find the pendulum has swung far away from the all-action, "Heroic Movement" model that seemed so dominant back in 2012? H1Z1, despite also being a late jump onto a different bandwagon, is actually looking the more likely of the two make something of itself right now, with its emphasis on slow and subtle over fast and flashy.

Meanwhile we soldier on. There is no perfect time-to-kill. No combat style is going to please everyone. Your thrill is my sore shoulder. My relaxing session is your paint drying. At least we have plenty of choice nowadays. If it's not fun we don't have to keep doing it until we brainwash ourselves into thinking it is.

Although that attitude won't get the dragon slayed, now will it?


  1. Slain by 'Slayed' the grammar police went zombie and slew the dragon after all.
    Guess I prefer slain :)

    That last screenshot reminds me of a Trine 2 background.

    1. It's not often I get a ticket from the grammar police but technically you're correct. I'd always put musicality above accuracy when it comes to creative or informal prose, though, and "that attitude won't get the dragon slain" just sounds weird.

      After all, if Slayed was good enough for Noddy and the boys it ought to be good enough for the rest of us!

    2. Well as long as people can't find anything to complain about besides their preferred spelling you must be doing something right.
      Earlier I read an article about grey vs gray that probably influenced me. U.S. spelling is just weird.

  2. I guess the GW2 boss fights are just QTEs.

    I kinda liked the WS reviews.

    "You can't meteorically squander an eight-year development cycle, great reviews, and an active, enthusiastic community in four months and blame it on the industry or general negativity instead of those at the top making consistently brain-dead calls.. Who does that?"

    That's gold right there and speaks volumes to the state of the game.

  3. I agree. Honestly, I prefer my MMO combat to focus more on proper use of my toolkit, timing, and teamwork. The more we have moved toward action-first gameplay, the fewer abilities we have had, the more streamlined the classes have been, and even in a Holy Trinity-based model it feels more and more like a group of people rolling around solo rather than a team doing team things.

    I want my tab-targetting back!

  4. I'll admit I mainly played a mesmer, that may have coloured my experiences of GW2 combat if they're particularly squishy, but I found the game's combat increasingly tiring. Dodging seemed to be an 'on cooldown' requirement in much of the later more popular Living World content that I played (up to early 2014). That's in part an issue with the scaling I guess, more players gives more mobs laying red circles.

    Interestingly in the recent Golden event in Secret World the mushroomy boss had a distinct pattern as you discussed early in your post. Once learned the fight was relaxing enough despite any need to dodge - the game doesn't throw random curve balls at you constantly. In GW2, especially towards the end, I felt like I needed eyes in the back of my character's head because the content was so busy and chaotic.

  5. "I am blessed as a player of MMOs in that I have not one tiny jot of the Completionist gene."

    You lucky son of a...

  6. About the GW2 Living World (and event) instances: while they can be finished solo, I have the distinct feeling they're meant as group instances (and work perfectly fine that way, and having a group is almost necessary if you want to get the "kill in x time" achievements). That also removes a lot, if not all of the tedium from them.

    1. That may be true for the Achievements but from my experience with previous episodes the Story won't update for anyone but the owner of the instance. Mrs Bhagpuss and I used to try duoing them but it seemed to mean doing every stage twice (or, with two accounts each, four times) so we stopped. We always disband now if the pop-up appears inviting one of us into the other's instance.

      They may have changed that but I'd want to see some confirmation before going through a whole fight only to find that my contribution hadn't been recognized. And even if it does now credit everyone, I like to speak to every NPC and poke my nose into every corner, which tends not to go down well with groups, so I'd almost certainly have to do it solo at least once.

      I might try grouping for the achievements though, just to see how that goes.


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