Sunday, 28 August 2016

Are We There Yet? : WoW, GW2

Legion draws ever nearer and I still haven't bought in. It's looking very much now as though I won't. Not at the start, anyway.

This first month of re-subscription has been...odd. When I hit the payment button on a whim my main concern was whether I'd get any use out of the subscription at all. That's proved to be an unnecessary concern. I've played every day.

The quality and nature of that play, on the other hand, has been both enlightening and confounding. I've played no more, no longer, each day than I had already been playing on my free account but I've had less fun.

The pattern has been to log into WoW only after I've done all my dailies on all three GW2 accounts plus the Bloodfen dailies on the one that has Heart of Thorns enabled. (I still haven't allocated my half-price HoT to either of the others).

Even after I've done the dailies I tend to stay on in GW2, often running around in WvW at least until Mrs Bhagpuss calls it a night. There was also rather good new Current Event added with last Tuesday's update, although it stalled very quickly as we all waited for the NPC to move to a new location (which, apparently, she did yesterday!).

This way, guys!

There's also the mysterious cat thing, which I spent some time noodling at while speculating why someone might have been allocated time to add this apparently purposeless piece of fluff when supposedly time constraints at ANet are so rigorous on everything else. Either it's something to keep the interns occupied or someone is testing some mechanic, either for later in LS3 or for the mysterious second expansion, that would be my supposition. Enhanced housing, anyone?

Daybreak Games threw their spanner in the ring with a big update and free Level 95s for all, so that took up some more time. I also took advantage of their generous All Access sale to put my main account on twelve-months pre-paid for the first time ever. I have to decide today whether to do the same for Mrs Bhagpuss's account, which, ironically, we had just agreed to cancel, due to her not having logged in for four years.

With all that going on, nothing else has really gotten a look-in these last couple of weeks. I did find time to check whether I needed to migrate my Dragon Nest account in the face of the imminent transfer of Nexon's North American version. Fortunately it turns out mine's DN: Europe, which appears to be staying on Steam for the time being. I'm aware that I better get on and play some Dragon Nest soon, though, or there may not be any Dragon Nest left to play.

The upshot of all this activity is that for several weeks my entire paid-up membership activity in World of Warcraft has consisted of running demonic invasions and occasionally sorting my bags into the bank. Most evenings I give it about an hour. I managed a couple of slightly longer sessions over the weekends but how people like Stargrace have managed to stick at it for hour after hour, day after day to level up whole armies of characters defeats me.

Aw, heck...where did everyone go?

As time's gone on the structure of the invasions has become a lot clearer. They seem less chaotic because, well, they aren't. There's some randomization to create a small sense of variety but the same bosses and sub-bosses appear at each location every time and the phases and cadences within  the phases are always the same.

My difficulty doesn't come from the repetition, something that all MMORPGs share as a core value. Nor does it come from the ridiculous number of seemingly unavoidable instant deaths (I had to repair to full twice in an hour last night) although the ability of some of the bosses to insta-kill without warning is intensely annoying.

No, my difficulty comes with the combat itself. It's bloody awful. I have never had any major complaints about WoW's combat in general. I have always found the solo, duo and single-group mechanics to be perfectly fine. On the evidence of what is now many hours of large-scale eventing, however, I have to say the in-event combat is the single worst MMO experience of its kind I have encountered anywhere.

There is no feedback worth the name, neither visual nor aural nor textual nor tactile. Everything floats.

I have no lag whatsoever and excellent ping. Technically nothing is standing in the way of a smooth, streamlined experience. What I don't have is any sense whatsoever that the character I'm controlling is involved in the action.

Thanks, but I had a shower earlier.

People talk an awful lot about "rotations" in WoW. I have it in mind to write about that in some depth but for now I'll just say that as far as these invasions go any "rotation" is entirely superflous. Meaningless. Worthless.

You don't need to be able to play your character to do Invasions. Perhaps there's something you might do to die less that requires player skill or class knowledge but other than that all you need to do is hit one button. Any button will do.

I hit all of them as they come off cooldown so as to have something to do but I am painfully aware that I would be better off tagging each boss once then withdrawing well out of range so I don't get insta-gibbed by some invisible AE. Still, stubbornly, I fight and more than occasionally die.

The other required skill is flocking. After each boss dies there's a moment's hiatus as everyone finds whatever button they hit to mount up and then the entire zerg takes to the skies. If you happen to be looking the wrong way or, calamity, still waiting at the graveyard, you're stuffed.

There's some arcane logic to the order in which the bosses are killed that, I'm sure, becomes second nature if you're grinding them for hours and days and weeks. It's beginning to seep into my consciousness now, just as it reaches the point when it will never, ever matter again. Meanwhile, if I miss my place in the flock it's five minutes of aimlessly flying around, looking and hoping. This is when I realize what a truly under-appreciated innovation Commander Tags were.

You fellas carry on without me. I'm just going sit here and moonbathe for a while.

In any other MMO the general channel would be buzzing thorough all these events. There would be banter and chatter and jokes - mostly very bad jokes but still... In WoW there is radio silence. People speak just often enough to let me know my chat channels aren't actually broken - maybe someone says something once every five or ten minutes. Oh, and there's a flurry of "INV" now and again, the most pared-down jargon for "Can I get an invite?" I've ever seen anywhere.

WoW has changed a lot since I last played back in the WotLK era. Then the problem with chat was the never-ending squall of noise, much of it very offensive. Now it seems no-one has anything to say at all, which adds to the strange, alienating "alone in a crowd" feel of these massive public events.

Coming from GW2, where every day is a series of large-scale events, I'm used to a constant surf of chatter as I play. I'm also used to feeling a solid, responsive, physical connection between my fingers on the keys and mouse and the actions of my character on the screen. Demonic Invasions in WoW have none of that.

What they do have is incredibly fast leveling and very useful loot. Just one of those two factors, as is well known, would have most MMO players sitting in an empty room pushing one button for hour after hour. At least the invasions are visually spectacular. There's always something to goggle at.

Hey! I can almost tell what I'm doing here! Almost.

In the end, though, after the novelty of seeing gigantic demons drop from the sky wore off, which took no more than a couple of sessions, it's all about the rewards. That's why I've stuck at it. I wanted to get my Hunter to 90. He was 69 when I started and now he's 92.

I've moved the target to 95 by Legion's launch A couple more sessions. The Warlock went from the high forties to 61, where he's going to stop. He got flying and that will do him for now. As for buying Legion, I think the odds are now better that I'll cancel my sub.

Or I might do neither. I might take another month and go and play the game normally. Level up some characters the old-fashioned way. See the broken world. Flying over those Cataclysm-shattered zones I see a lot of very interesting-looking landscapes worth exploring.

One thing I am sure about: WoW's engine is not made for these big open-world extravaganzas. The utter weightlessness of everything is enervating. I feel tired just thinking about it.

I've never raided in WoW. Do raids feel like this too? Maybe I'll do some LFR and see for myself.




10 comments:

  1. It's not great content - but almost necessary due to the rewards. I already started running old raids (which is tons of fun from a historical, nostalgic, and transmog view). I haven't raided since they added in LFR and I'm worried that LFR will have the same feeling. Old raids were intense, amazing, and deep bonding moments between guild mates. I'm scared to see what LFR does to that...

    Side question for you - can a top level EQ character solo old raid content? I still haven't been past 55 there...

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    1. "can a top level EQ character solo old raid content?"

      Absolutely! Mrs Bhagpuss and I duoed a whole bunch of Velious and PoP era raid stuff waaaaaay back when I guess our characters were only about 70ish and that was without Mercs. With mercs it would be much easier and of course every new expansion puts your gear and skills up another order of magnitude. It does depend on the mechanics a bit - sometimes there are those really annoying parts where it requires a specific ability or co-ordination between more than one player - but by and large you should be able to solo/molo a ton of old raids.

      EQ2 is even easier. I've soloed just about everything I can think of there as a Berserker with a healing merc. I should take my Level 92 EQ magician out for a raid run sometime though - I haven't done any since I was on my low-8os BL and she's tissue paper compared to the Mage.

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  2. I suspect you'll find Raids a similar kind of experience, particularly as DPS and particularly LFR.

    LFR is a free-for-all and quite similar to the invasions - plenty of people doing exactly nothing, no real chatter, and very little opportunity to appreciate the mostly excellent encounter design. Running a 'real' raid is far more interesting and compelling, but takes a lot more of a time commitment.

    The invasions are a bit of an exception though, given you can literally do nothing and still be involved. You're quite right that you can press any key and it won't really matter in the end. LFR isn't quite that bad, you need at least a core group of players to be doing the right thing in order to get through it, and so your DPS matters.

    Playing DPS in WoW is always somewhat detached, certainly compared to tanking or healing. As you mention, you're mainly concerned with perfecting your rotation (and staying alive), and they only impact you see is the bosses health dropping blow by blow. Occasionally there might be a mechanic that calls for clever DPS skills - kiting a mob or banishing something - but generally it's about keeping those numbers churning out.

    If you want to feel more involved and 'weighty', try levelling a tank character via LFD. The levelling dungeons are all fun and interesting, and as a tank you actually feel like you're changing how the mobs and bosses are responding to your party, rather than simple making them die. It would be interesting to see if that gives you the "solid, responsive, physical connection" you're looking for.

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    1. Playing ranged DPS is probably a significant part of the disconnect. It makes a huge difference if I use a channeled skill because I can literally see the connection between my character and the target, plus there's a whole lot of associated vibration and shake and a droning sound effect, often as not. Firing an arrow, at best, sends a fizzly, warping green trail that seems to dissipate before it even hits. Often there seems to be no visual signifier at all, or else it's just getting lost in the background.

      When I briefly did some dungeons back when the group finder was added I queued as a very low level priest and healing was certainly not a weightless experience - if anything it was far too heavy! I imagine tanking is equally visceral. There's a trade-off there against responsibility, though - ground that's been very extensively covered in countless discussions over the years.

      Still, I might do some more healing. I think it would be a bit much for me to queue as a tank given that I don't know any of the dungeons and leading the charge is kind of the tank's job but I reckon I could still handle some low-level healing even if I am very out of practice.

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  3. I don't think power-leveling through invasions is a very good choice for someone who hasn't already sunk a lot of time into WoW. It's more for people like me, who've seen and done it all a dozen times before. I think you'll find the game much more rewarding if you try leveling through the zones normally.

    Particular locations I'd recommend due to interesting environments or stories are Darkshore (10-20), the Plaguelands (35-45), Thousand Needles (40-45), Dragonblight (72-74), Grizzly Hills (74-77), Storm Peaks (77-80) (my personal favourite zone in the game), Vashj'ir (80-82), and pretty much all of Pandaria except for the Valley of the Four Winds. Plus a few more if you don't mind rolling a Horde character or two. Also some of the newer races (especially Worgen and Pandaren) have very nice starting zones you can't access as another race, so you might want to try those, even if you no intention of sticking with those races.

    I don't necessarily disagree with any of your criticisms of the combat experience in invasions, but I'd say the same is true of most large scale events like that. I enjoyed GW2's events, but realistically all I did on the bigger ones was hang back and spam my pistol nuke, taking it on faith that I was actually hitting the boss and contributing something.

    As for silent chat, that's very much a function of your server choice. On my Alliance server, my experience matched yours, but on my Horde server -- Wyrmrest Accord, a high population role-playing server -- the chat was always buzzing, sometimes too fast to even read. The quality of the chat I can't vouch for, but the quantity was never lacking.

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    1. I agree. It's a very bad idea. The timing was unfortunate. On the other hand - free stuff!

      Seriously, I just wanted to get one character near to the current cap so as to have a benefactor on tap for every other character I level properly. Nothing beats a high level on the account when it comes to a smooth casual experience for everyone else.

      Thanks for the suggestions on where to go. I very much like the look of Thousand Needles as I fly over it - I had that one penciled in already. I've also heard good things from almost everywhere on Pandaria, which obviously I've never visited (well, I did get a monk to level 6 on a free account once...).

      It's absolutely true that you can do GW2's events just on auto-attack and plenty of people do. I've always used all my abilities though and I strafe, run and dodge like a maniac even when I don't need to because I just love the feel of it. On most of the classes I play there is a very distinct sense of direct feedback even in the hugest fights when it's near-impossible to see what's going on. I'm going to study this and try and work out exactly why, because the Invasion fights are, on the surface, extremely similar, yet they feel completely different. Huge fights in both Rift and EQ2 (public quests) also don't feel like the Invasions. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with "impact" but I need to do some comparative research - assuming I ever get the time.

      The observations on chat are very helpful. As a big supporter of server identity I should really have thought of that for myself.

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    2. It also occurs to me your choice of classes might have been unfortunate. It seems you're mostly playing warlock and hunter, and those are currently the most bland classes in the game in terms of visuals and sound effects. Not sure what specs you're playing, but affliction and marksmanship are especially bad in this regard.

      You might feel better if you were playing an elemental shaman, shadow priest, or pretty much any melee spec (though melee gets eaten alive by invasions).

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  4. I managed to get a level 94 druid to 100, a level 12 horde warrior to 60 (for my eventual boost), and a level 74 warrior to 98, which was the tough grind. But that last one I have been working on for a week and a half. It is tough to do more than a few invasion runs at a time, so I ran him off to do other bits of content.

    I also spent a bit of time playing with other classes. I found my old mage, left at level 33, was actually very handy at the invasion tag game when it came to big bosses. Standing back and blazing away gave him much higher survivability than my warriors, who have to wade into the thick of things, only to get AOE'd or otherwise pummeled. The Fel Reaver seemed to have my number. However, trying to solo my mage through quest content still didn't seem viable, so I left him at level 48.

    In one sense though, the whole thing was probably a decent training run for people in how to play their new specs in DPS mode, as well as how to watch for and deal with boss mechanics. And, of course, loot... which will all be obsolete quickly.

    Not bad, so far as events go. It certainly got a lot of people out on the field.

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    1. I died so many times as a Hunter, standing at maximum range. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the melees, hacking away at the giant demons' ankles. All in all I enjoyed the invasions. Towards the end I was getting the hang of the patterns and the flow and even learning which boss did what and whether I was in danger of being insta-killed or not.

      In the end though it was the rewards that kept me at it. I hit my original goal of 90 with the Hunter and revised it to 95, which i hit last night. I did a coup,e more this morning and dinged 96. I could certainly have made 100 by the close but I decided to go out and enjoy the late summer sunshine instead.

      Decent event, all in all. I'd give it a B+.

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    2. I kept telling myself "Okay, that's it, done with invasions." And then I'd be back at it with another character... or with the same character with a higher level goal. I didn't think I would get my warrior to 98. I was going to be happy with 85, then 90 at different points over the last week.

      I had the Westfall and North Barrens events down cold by the end and could lead the pack to the right bosses. Was least keen on Tarren Mill and Azshara as they were difficult to navigate and keep up with the pack if you lacked flight. Karanos as well, really, but you could stay on main street and be okay.

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