Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Going Fishing


I've been so hyped for the third Guild Wars 2 expansion, End of Dragons, I completely forgot ArenaNet were doing a Livestream about it today. I only happened to catch the big reveal by sheer chance.

I'd been playing New World all afternoon and having a very good time, not least because the player hordes have dispersed across the wilderness, taking most (although not all) of my technical issues with them. I only stopped because I dinged Level 12 and then almost immediately got trained by some skeleton so far above my paygrade all it had for a level indicator was a leering skull.

It seemed like an appropriate time to take a break and get a coffee. I closed the game down and flipped through Feedly, as you do, where I saw a post from MassivelyOP that mentioned the Livestream in the title. With my memory jogged I was quite excited to take a look at the bullet point list of features. I've been keeping my fingers crossed for housing although I know it's not going to happen. 

And I wasn't disappointed. Wait, let me re-phrase that. I was disappointed. Very disappointed. In general, that is. I just wasn't wrong. There is no housing. Guild Hall decorating does not count, any more than the dismal Personal Instances ever did.

MOP were live-blogging the highlights. When I arrived they'd got as far as Seige Turtles. I read through the line items and my shoulders sagged. Oh dear...

Because I have this blog, because I have a history of writing about GW2 here and because I could see the Livestream was still going on, I felt honor-bound to watch the rest of it. It wasn't terrible as these things go. 



The pre-recorded parts were professional enough and the live parts were unembarrassing, which is quite a high bar. Everyone seemed calm. No-one shrieked or capered. They didn't even laugh at their own jokes. Or, indeed, make any jokes. I thank them for that.

For once, the problem wasn't in the ineptitude of the presentation. It was in the mediocrity of the content. I could summarize the main features in a nice, neat list but what would be the point? If anyone's really that interested I suggest they go read the MassivelyOP report. They do that there.

I can sum up the entire expansion in a sentence. No, not even a sentence, a phrase: more of the same. That's literally what we're getting. A new continent (Cantha, as we all know), a story to take us through it, a full set of new Legendary Weapons, a full set of new Elite Specifications, a new Guild Hall, new Strike Missions... 

Which is fine. I have no problem with an expansion that adds more of all the things people already know and like. That's very reasonable.

My problem is this: they aren't the things I like. It's a list of the things I either don't much bother with in the existing game or, worse, things I actively avoid. 

Cantha, as a concept, does nothing for me. Never has. It's fine. I don't mind that we're going there. I just also don't care that we're going there.

Elite specs, something that  would probably be called new classes in other games, are mostly a nuisance. If they're too good everyone piles on and they end up being nerfed anyway. Conversely, if they're not wildly better than the old ones, people treat them as a novelty then ignore them. Also, with another round of Elite Specs the game will effectively have three dozen "classes". Good luck balancing that, ANet.

Legendaries I find pointless. Some, although not many, of the skins are quite nice but the grind needed to get them, in all the variations so far tried, is my literal definition of a waste of time. I was grimly amused to hear this referred to in the livestream as "replayability". Words, as Humpty Dumpty liked to say, mean what we choose them to mean.

Strike missions are an interesting focus point. I came in about a third of the way through the stream but I didn't hear anyone mention raids, although someone did refer to Challenge versions of Strike missions (also coming with EoD) as something for the raiders to do. I'm guessing GW2 is done with raiding now and this is what we have instead.

On that theme, we appear to be done not only with dungeons (We've been done with those for the longest time...) but also with fractals. Again, they don't get a mention. Suits me. Never saw the point of them, either.


 

I won't go on picking the thing apart line by line. It's too depressing. The expansion is going to double down on some of the things I least like about the game, although in its favor it's also going to double down on ignoring a few others I can't stand, so there's that.

Turning negatives into positives, I was very pleased to hear almost nothing about new mounts, other than the ominous Siege Turtle. No mounts is good mounts... er news. (There are no good mounts.) 

The Siege Turtle is the death knell for any last pretense of gravitas for a game whose credibility as any sort of virtual world has been going belly up for a while now (something I fervently hope the turtles will do if you hit them with a cannon.) That said, this seems to be another piece of fan service, calling back to the original Guild Wars, so I guess that battle was already lost long ago.

The turtle is a multiplayer mount, something that brings to mind the worst excesses of World of Warcraft, although unless I misheard, "multi" in this case means just two people. They'll be useable everywhere the other mounts are, as far as I could gather, so that's going to be fun.

One possible sliver of light: the access quest for the new Guild Hall is supposedly scaled to suit smaller groups. I don't imagine it's going to scale far enough to allow tiny guilds with two or three players to complete it but we can hope. It does at least suggest someone finally realised there's a problem there.


 

I've left the one genuinely intriguing, potentially exciting announcement to the end. We're getting fishing! And not just fishing but fishing boats! 

This was the part I wanted to hear a lot about so naturally they'd already finished talking about it by the time I got there. Fishing is a mastery, which is fine. I like masteries, as a rule. The boats are called skiffs, which suggests something very flimsy, but the skin they briefly showed looked to be a decent size, something like the longboat in Valheim.

Fishing will be possible all over Tyria, not just in Cantha, and therefore I hope it's safe to assume the skiffs will be too. There's a lot of water in Tyria and this might begin to explain why ANet put all that effort into updating underwater skills a while ago. 

There are going to be various betas for the Elite specs before launch. Anyone can join in with those, even free to play accounts. Ther first of the already-announced betas for the upcoming World vs World revamp, Alliances, now rolled in with the EoD feature set, starts in just three weeks. 

Finally, we have a release date. Okay, not a date. That would be asking too much. A release month. End of Dragons drops in February 2022. Pre-orders begin today.

I can't wait. Oh, hang on... yes I can.

The Art Of Starting Over


Tipa
has a couple of extremely detailed and immensely valuable posts up on the increasingly over-the-radar DCUO. The first is a preview of the game's upcoming soft reboot House of Legends. The official press release is incorporated in this Development Update but Tipa's post breaks everything down without the (rather hilarious) !! Warning: Game Content Changing !! tone of the original.

One of the big reveals from the EG7 acquisition of Daybreak's portfolio of games was just how strong and successful DCUO has been and continues to be. Anyone who's played the game over the past few years can't but have noticed how very busy it feels, all the time. I play on the US servers and I logged in half an hour ago, at somewhere between midnight and three a.m. stateside, to a server flagged "High" population.

This is a successful game but in many ways I feel that's a success achieved despite rather than because of some of its core features. I've been playing largely in the most casual way possible since beta and yet I barely understand anything about how even something as basic as character progression works. 

Vast tracts of the game can seem opaque and confusing. As with all mmorpgs, DCUO suffers from a surfeit of jargon but it's always been its huge strength that a casual player can just muddle along and have fun, even while not understanding pretty much of anything. In its way it's far more pick-up-and-play than most other mmorpgs I can think of. 

You can make a character then right away go patrol the city streets, running up skyscrapers or flying high above them, looking for villains to punch. That's the super-hero fantasy, right there. In some ways the game doesn't need much more. 

But it has more. it has deep drifts of content, surprises and stories, crises and call-outs, bosses and battles and epic adventures, most of which have been locked away behind arcane access requirements, the majority of which will be going away with the upcoming update. I'm not going to detail what all those changes are: go read Tipa's post if you want the full deets but you can think of it as DCUO's "One Tamriel" if you like.

The key takeaway here is that there's never been a better time to try the game, or to return if you've drifted away. Timing could be better, of course, with New World coming and half a dozen other mmorpg releases either fresh off the assembly line or just about to hit the racks. DCUO is a quick win, though. It's free to play, available on a wide range of platforms and very easy to pick up for short, satisfying sessions.

I plan on fitting it into my increasingly overloaded schedule, somehow. Frankly, exactly how I can't quite figure just yet but I'll get there. I'm motivated to return as much by Tipa's second great post as by the revamp itself. The post focuses on starting a new character and in it Tipa clarifies more about how the character progression mechanics work than I've been able to glean from years of playing and wiki-reading.


 

This is incredibly useful information. I’ve been playing DCUO since beta but even though I sometimes stop and read the wiki for clarification there are vast tracts of the game I simply don’t understand, even at the very lowest levels.

For example, I gave up even trying to understand how the currencies work many years ago. I spent so long just trying to find vendors in the cavernous mazes of the main hubs that even if I found them I would be too exhausted to make sense of what they were selling. The news that there will be simplified, compact versions of these in the future is one of the most welcome aspects of House of Legends as far as I'm concerned.

I have always had similar issues with the progression system. I didn’t know until I read Tipa's post that there even were things called “Feat Points”. I can’t recall ever seeing them although it’s entirely possible I’ve been getting and spending them without knowing what they are. I have bags filled with stuff I don't understand, after all and I understand even less when I read the tool-tips.

Even the simple stuff phases me. I have only recently learned to use the teleport system reliably and that, I think, is because they changed something to make it easier for idiots. I can never keep straight what the various missions mean (solo and duo are clear but the others I mix up all the time). I have never really been clear on what the difference is between regular and Episode content. Tipa's post makes more sense of all of that than anything else I’ve read.


 

The thing is, ever since housing was added to the game in the form of Lairs, I have really just treated DCUO as a construction kit, not a game, let alone a super-hero game. I check the updates to see what new housing items I can get for free, then if they look tasty I log in and do the minimum to get them. Once I've placed them in my Lair I'm done until the next time.

That's really wasting a great game. A game I've never really played with any kind of intensity or focus. 

I’ve only ever leveled one character to thirty. She dinged a few weeks after the game launched. Back then the thirty levels did constitute some kind of regular gameplay, perhaps as much so as Guild Wars 2's eighty. It took about the same time to get them, anyway. 

These days levels are barely even an afterthought. They're not the tip of the iceberg. More like the thin layer of snow on top. And yet I still haven't got there with the character I made several years ago on the account I now use to play the game.

I have a couple of free, Level 30 boosted characters that I never play. My "main" is still in the 20s (27 in fact) several years after I created her. There doesn’t seem to be a /played function so I’m not sure how many hours I’ve put into her but it has to be more than enough to have leveled her several times over, had she actually spent that time doing things that give xp.

Using the information in Tipa's post I'm going to get those last three levels and then wait for House of Legends to drop, when I plan on starting a brand-new character, possibly a villain. I tried a villain years ago but didn't like it much. Maybe now the streams have crossed I'll like it better.

Tipa's post will be invaluable then. I hope she finds the time and inclination to write a few more.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Your Cover's Blown


I have a super-busy weekend from Friday through Monday for one reason or another but I didn't want to let four days go by without posting at all. My go-to for quick posts these days is music but I already did one of those on Thursday. I absolutely could do another but I have a ton of music stuff planned for Blaugust (Oh, yes! Be afraid!) so let's see if I can think of anything else to write about...

Hmm. How about this

There's already been some great personal testimony and commentary on the topic of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing vs Activision-Blizzard from the likes of Belghast, Stargrace , Hannah, Nathan, Syp, Gnomecore, Wilhelm, Ace Asunder and no doubt more that I've forgotten. It would be tempting to describe the whole thing as Blitzchung 2.0 but really the only similarities are that it involves Blizzard once again doing something that makes a lot of people feel disgusted, outraged, let down or betrayed. They do seem to be making a habit of it.

The differences are vast. Blitzchung was (arguably) a heat of the moment decision with uncomfortable political and ethical ramifications. It involved three people (Blitzchung and the two streamers) and pointed up anomalies between the company's stated position on certain issues and how they acted.

A lot of people found Blizzard's response either unfair or inconsistent, while others saw it as part of an ongoing, existential battle. Positions were taken, subscriptions were cancelled. Bloggers I followed struggled with loyalty to their characters and the games in which they'd invested so much time versus their need to make a point and send Blizzard a message.

A lot of people did cancel. Some stopped playing immediately, some carried on until their subs ran out. 

Unusually, I was subbed to World of Warcraft at the time. I was playing Classic. I didn't make any grand gestures. I understood and respected the arguments of those who did but the whole thing felt a little dry to me. Distant, even.

The whole farago did take the wind out of my sails as far as Classic was concerned, though. I'd been posting about it non-stop and playing every day but suddenly doing either just felt uncomfortable. I played less, then not at at all. I didn't write about the game any more and when my monthly sub expired I didn't renew. 

All the pictures in this post are from games that look like WoW.

 

This feels different. This is different. This isn't someone making one dumb choice and then someone else trying to spin it as not what it was. This isn't a plain and obvious clash between corporate greed and doing the right thing. 

This is lifting a rock and watching stuff crawl out. Stuff that's been there a long time. Stuff that lives there, feels comfortable there, feels safe there. Stuff that really would like it if you put the rock back, please, so everything can carry on just like before. This is a company not just shrugging off accusations but turning on their accusers and calling them out as though they were the ones at fault.

I have no personal experience of life inside a major video game company. Anything I say about it is based entirely on what I may have seen and read as a player over the last forty years. From that perspective, the basic facts of gender discrimination and a "boys club" attitude at Activision-Blizzard don't surprise me in the least. A lot of companies, in and out of the video game industry, have a hell of a lot of work to do on both those fronts, that's for sure.

What does take me aback about the detail, repulsive and gross as it is, is the sheer scale of it. It seems to have been not just endemic but almost universal. 

Then there's the frankly puerile nature of some of the abuse. We don't really have "frat houses" where I come from but this sounds more like the behavior you'd expect from unsupervised schoolboys rather than someone taking a university degree. It makes me wonder how anything worthwhile ever got into the games at all, if this was the sort of thing the people working on it felt was a good way to spend the day.

Nathan asks "What will it take?" as he ponders whether to cancel his subsciption. I could ask myself the same question. The Blitzchung affair wasn't enough to make me cancel, just not to renew. This lawsuit and the revelations therein would be... if I had anything to cancel.

Or play like WoW.

 

I don't, though. I have no subscriptions to anything Activision-Blizzard offer at present and no plans to buy anything they're proposing to offer in the future. I was briefly subbed to WoW while I was writing about the level squish, Exiles' Reach and Chromie Time but I'm not now.  I didn't buy Shadowlands and I never planned to. I've never played any other Blizzard game than WoW and chances are I never will.

I do, however, have characters in WoW that I have affection for. And I can still play some of them if I want to, without subscribing. 

WoW has a half-assed Free-to-Play offer that's really a glorified free trial but it pretty much gives me everything I want from the game. I can log in any time and run my characters around or make new ones and so long as I don't level up too far I'm golden.

In doing so I don't give Act-Blizz a cent. All I do is use some of their server bandwidth. And since I only solo, never talk to anyone, mostly never even see anyone, I'm not even doing that thing we sometimes talk about - being the content for other people.

If I do this, am I tacitly supporting Blizzard? Does the very act of logging in mean I'm condoning the appalling behavior of the people who made the game I'm playing? Or am I really committing an act of social disobedience? Taking for free the very thing they rely on me to pay for to keep the whole shebang rolling?

I don't know. It seems to me that to stop playing a game for which you don't pay and which no-one else knows you are playing is a bit of a weak statement but I suppose it's stronger than just carrying on as if none of it has anything to do with you at all. 

As a blogger who has, quite often, written about playing WoW for free, usually quite positively, how would it be if I carried on playing but stopped writing about it? Would that be striking more of a blow than just not playing it at all?

And I didn't even mention FFXIV.

 

It's a moot point, anyway, because I'm not playing WoW right now. But I was thinking about playing again and if I had it would have been the free version. Well, I'm not going to do that any more. Suck on that, Blizz!

I guess that does answer my own question to myself, though. Regardless of how pointless it might be to declare you're no longer going to play a game you weren't playing anyway, far less paying for, that, apparently, is what I'm going to do. And even if I change my mind and play you won't be reading about it here. Not that I'm going to change my mind. But if I did, you wouldn't know. Just sayin'.

Unless, I guess, something changes in Blizzard's favor. Hard to see what that would be. I suppose they could win the lawsuit in a convincing fashion that exonerates everyone concerned. That could happen. Or they could clean house so thoroughly and convincingly that we'd all believe they'd changed for good. That could happen.

Or, I guess, as happened with Blitzchung, we could all gradually forget about it, or forget about how angry we were about it, and drift back. Almost everyone (not everyone) I can think of did. Except this time there's going to be that lawsuit and a trial and a constant, daily reminder of what this is all about. So it's going to be a lot harder to just give Blizz a slap with a few months cancelled subs then climb back on the sparkle pony again.

Oh, it's easy for me, though, isn't it? WoW doesn't have the meaning in my life other mmorpgs do. I wouldn't be so sanguine if this was Daybreak (or EG7, I guess I should say) or ArenaNet we were talking about. But then, both of those (and SOE before Daybreak) have had their share of terrible news stories and awful behavior. But nothing like this.

So I guess either they're doing a better job than Blizzard of holding that rock down or the appalling behavior we're reading about really isn't par for the course in video game companies after all. 

I bloody well hope not, anyway. If it is, we'd all better find another hobby.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Happy Place


I have absolutely no reason to post this other than someone whose blog I read posted it and I saw it there and it made me extremely happy so I wanted to pay it forward. If this doesn't cheer you up after a difficult day I have absolutely no idea what might.

It's called Chaise Longue and it's by Wet Leg. It's one of the best songs I've heard this year and it probably has the best video. I could get out the bullet points and explain exactly why that is, but no-one needs me to do that, right?

Oh, for heaven's sake... the bit where Hester looks up and says "What?" All the times Hester says "What?" and doesn't look up. The spot of sunlight on the tip of Rhian's nose. "Would you like us to assign someone to worry your mother?" The rocking horse. The dancing. The dancing on the rocking horse. The way it goes out of focus at the end. Just those for now and you're not getting bullet points.


This is who told me about it. Everything you most likely need to know is in the last paragraph but I'll summarise for you:

  • It's reminiscent of Ze Records house style, although more the much-missed Cristina than James White, to my way of thinking.
  • They're from the Isle of Wight (with all that implies, I'm sure)
  • This is their first and only video.

So much for the no bullet point rule.

There's not much else to know. They have a web site with almost nothing on it. There's a page on their record company's web site, that has scarcely any more, although I did learn from there that, yes, they are a duo (the few live clips on YouTube show a band of four) and their names are Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers.

The band's local paper, the Isle of Wight County Press, printed an article about them that has more information. It links them to another band I've never heard of, Plastic Mermaids, who would appear to be some kind of Isle of Wight supergroup of a quarter of a century's standing, at least. It explains why several tracks by a band of that name appeared in the YouTube suggestions when I was watching the video. I was wondering.

The article also claims that "Chaise Longue is the first of a string of releases planned by the band this year", something I fervently hope to be true but fear, from bitter past experience, will not be.

Then, if you'd been responsible for something this perfect, wouldn't you feel you'd done enough?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Hanging Around


When ArenaNet brought back the Marionette event from Scarlet's War, it came in two flavors: Public and Private. The Private version, which can be triggered by anyone capable of finding a full squad of fifty people willing to do it, is a permanent addition to the game but the Public event was only slotted into the calendar for a single week, something that always seemed strange.

While I was cutting the strings I heard quite a few people express a wish and a hope that the Public version might be allowed to hang around a week or two longer, maybe even be added to the roster of regularly returning events. Some (and I was one of them) even suggested it would make a good addition to the World Boss circuit, making it available several times a day in perpetuity.

When Tuesday rolled around, though, the Marionette was locked up in her private playground as promised. I checked after the update to be sure and not only had the notification of the public version disappeared from the corner of the screen but when the hour rolled around there was only one option at the Scrying Pool: go private or go home.

It was with considerable surprise, then, that I read this news item on MassivelyOP a few minutes ago. The very good news is that there will, after all, be a permanent place in the world for the eighty-player public event. 

There will be some "tweaks", the gist of which seems to be that you'll need a critical mass of players before the event will start. That should prevent situations like the hilarious one I enjoyed a few days ago, when I logged my character back in after having logged her out after the public event the day before, only to find myself the only person in the lane.

Figuring I'd fluked an appearance just as the rest of them had gone inside, I sprinted through the barrier, which happened to be green. I found myself on a platform with... Taimi

I'd forgotten that little wrinkle from the original run seven years ago, when the event ran in the genuine, non-instanced version of Lornar's Pass and it was entirely possible to find yourself one of a handful of people who'd turned up. The NPCs, Braham, Rox, Taimi and I foget who else, would try to fill in for the missing players. It was always a token gesture at best.

Taimi, sadly, wasn't much help. She mostly shouted encouragement. She was in Scruffy, her golem, so she could have tanked the boss for me. It was the one that has to be hit from behind so that would have worked out nicely, what with me being pure DPS.


 

Unfortunately, since she didn't, the boss was permanently aggroed on me, making it tough to get behind him. I did manage to stay alive for the full two and a half minutes and I got him to about 75% health, which I count as a moral victory.

Of course, it wouldn't have mattered if I'd been able to one-shot the creature because there were four other platforms with no-one on them at all. I'm still not sure how the barrier turned green in the first place. 

That, I'm guessing, is exactly the sort of thing ANet would rather avoid if at all possible. Their reasons given for bringing the public event back are interesting. Apparently attendance at the event has increased steadily, with more people doing it at the end than when it began. That's a rare thing with special events in GW2

Success rates have also been climbing, which doesn't surprise me. For all ANet's laboring the point about this being "a demanding fight" in which "individual players have a huge impact on the outcome of the event" and it requiring "significant coordination and collaboration – much more so than most of the other world events" it honestly is not Asuran Rocket Science. It takes a couple of runs and a quick read through some brief notes to get the hang of it. Compared to Triple Trouble it's a doddle.

If they were concerned the difficulty might put people off, it never made any sense to can the Public event, anyway. It's the Squad version that's genuinely challenging. 

I did the Public version half a dozen times during the week it was here and every time was a success. I did it twice in the squad version and both times it failed. That's not much of a sample, I admit, but plenty of people commented in map chat about how much easier the public version was. It's because you can bring eighty people. Those extra thirty make all the difference.

Whether it will be easy to get eighty people to do it when it's here all the time is another matter. If you can get the fifty to do the squad, though, you really might as well just flag it on LFG and try for the rest. I'm pretty sure you'd get them. Everyone will expect a full map to succeed.

However it works out, I'm happy there'll at least be the possibility of a permanent public Marionette show. The squad version seems too purposeful and serious for what was always a loud, brash, frequently chaotic party.

Now can we look at getting the final fight with Scarlet in her airship over Lion's Arch back, please? That was an instance for a set number of players. It would be perfectly suited for a re-run or, better yet, another permanent slot in the schedule.

Try The New World, Play The Game

I'm only writing this now because the New World beta servers are down. The in-game message says Amazon are investigating "server instability", which made me wonder if someone was trying to wreak vengeance on the game for supposed past misdemeanors but the forum gives chapter and verse on some bug fixes so it's probably nothing sinister. 

They'd already extended the downtime by thirty minutes when I went to log in or I wouldn't even have known. Mrs. Bhagpuss and I had been for a long walk through wheatfields and woodland before the sun got too hot and I'd just sat myself down with a cold drink to decide whether to play New World or blog about it. I'd settled on playing, mostly so I'd have more to write about, and then I found I couldn't which is always annoying. I had to change tack.

Of course, just typing this has taken me to within a few minutes of the servers coming back up, so now I have to choose whether to carry on or go back to the original plan. I think it's going to be the latter. (It wasn't. Ed.)

It's not that I'm desperate to play, although I was having fun last night, mostly. The main reason I'd be well-advised to get on as soon as the servers come up is that it'll be the middle of the night in the USA.

Now with added freckles!

 

Last night was astonishingly busy on Roruva, the North American East Coast server I chose almost at random. I imagine it was busy on every server. At one point there were nearly two hundred thousand people logged in via Steam, according to reports. The 24-hour peak stands at 190,811 as I write.

The sheer volume of people, all trying to talk to the same NPCs and do the same quests, led to the usual bottlenecks, as well as the traditional opening day cavalcade of repetitive questions. Every third person seemed to want to know where the sheep were. Or, as one persistent if ungrammatical quester kept asking, "Where are sheeps?" There were, of course, no sheeps. Not live ones, anyway.

Despite the excessive crowding, I didn't run into any real problems in my first hour. The game begins with what I'm fairly sure is the exact same cinematic, the one that leads quite cleverly into character creation set in a ship's cabin. It's a nice introduction to the general theme and setting of the game.

I made the same character I've been making since the first alpha. I have screenshots from back then and she looks pretty much identical. Character options, still surprisingly limited, don't appear to have moved forward all that much over the last couple of years. There are still no sliders. You don't get to change your jawline or the length of your eyelashes although you can, at least, choose your eye-color, something I complained about not being able to do last time.

A year ago I also mentioned that you got a choice of two genders. You don't any more. Now you get a choice of two body types with no gender stated. You also get a choice of pronouns, although you have to dig into the settings to find that out. The default pronoun is They/Them, which makes sense. 

There are also multiple statements and explanations addressing the locale, setting and theme of the game. Amazon have taken some of the criticisms over cultural insensitivity to heart, it appears. I'm not wholly convinced that standing behind consultations with "experts" and their own "diverse workforce" is quite the get out of jail free card they seem to imagine but at least they're acknowledging the issues.

When it comes to player characters, there is a deal of diversity on show. There are twenty-one presets for the head and face, not all of which are young and good-looking. A couple of dozen or so hairstyles add more variety, although in my experience whatever hairstyle you choose pretty soon vanishes under some helmet or other. There are flesh tones, facial hair, scars and tattoos as well. It's plenty, although if you're used to something like Swords of Legend Online it might still feel like it's not all that much.

With your character made, before you can play you still need to choose a region. Europe, East Coast or West Coast USA, South America, Australasia, somewhere near you is hosting this game. Then it's on to servers, of which there are many. 

So far so familiar but here's a new one on me. You also have to choose a "World Set". There's no real explanation of what that means but there is a stern warning:

I imagine a "World Set" is what we usually refer to as a "server cluster". Why you can only have one character per "Set", though, I have no idea. Even with the dire warnings, I heard several players complaining they weren't able to join friends in other World Sets. People don't read signage, it's a fact.

Since I wasn't planning on meeting up with anyone and anyway it's beta, I just picked a name I liked the look of. There were a lot to choose from and most of them had no extrinsic meaning. I imagine they relate to places in the gameworld but that's a guess. They could be the names of the developers' pets for all I know.

Once in, everything seemed extremely familiar. If anything's changed in the tutorial since last summer's Preview, I didn't spot it. I wrote about it then and all of that still applies so I'm not going to go over it again. 

I had exactly the same issues with "lag" as last year, too. For about an hour the game played smoothly even with countless players bouncing around the screen. The game defaulted to "Low" for all my graphics settings which is interesting. My PC is unchanged since last year's Preview, when I noted that all but one of my settings defaulted to "High". I thought the point of optimization was to increase accessibility, not reduce it.

I changed everything to "High" to see what would happen and not much did. I played without any obvious problems for about an hour, going through all the quests on the beach without any noticeable frame rate issues. 

Curious definition of Medium Load there, Amazon.

 

When I got to the first town, though, I ran into exactly the same trouble as last year. Frame rates dropped, everything began to judder and eventually my whole machine ground to a halt. I couldn't play. I couldn't even close the game. I had to tab out, which itself took a couple of minutes, and close the game from the Task Manager.

Before that happened I did manage to do some of the quests in town. Last year I noted that none of the NPCs were voiced, which seemed odd. They all do now. Every character I spoke to had full voice acting although it was often hard to hear what they were saying even when I turned the sound right up. 

When I could hear them, most of the voice acting seemed... okay. The guy on the beach, the first questgiver you meet, speaks in a peculiar, arch tone that makes him sound like he's being sarcastic even when he's not but the folks in town mostly seemed matter-of-fact even when the lines they were delivering appeared to be intentionally humorous.  I can almost hear the director murmuring "Undersell it."

The game has housing now, something I think must have been added in the last year. It's hard not to be aware of it because you'll keep trying to go through open doors only to be stopped by an invisible barrier. I'm guessing it works somewhat like Black Desert, a smart mix of instanced and open world access, but since every house I looked at cost several thousand gold I don't imagine I'm going to find out for sure before beta ends.

One other change I noticed in the two or three hours I was on (I got to level nine) was the fashion. For a PvP game, the utilitarian look of the alpha made sense but once the game transitioned to a PvE model and invited in a whole new audience it was plain that plain wouldn't pass. PvE players like to strut. 

I hope that's been properly cured...
In just the opening few levels I had half a dozen different looks. Quested and dropped gear was abundant and most of it looked good. I was very impressed by the tunic made from a whole dead fox with its front paws bound together. The leather greatcoat was impressive too. The whole gender/body type discussion becomes moot when you're wrapped up in something like that.

After I was forced out of the game by frame rate issues I was in two minds whether to go back and try again but I've always found New World moreish. The addition of quests and achievements and all the paraphenalia of the theme park only make the draw stronger. 

When I logged back in, something odd happened. At first it was as unplayable as it had been before but then, as I struggled on, after maybe twenty minutes the stutter and grind just...went away. I was, by then, back on Low graphics to see if that would help but I'd changed those settings before I logged in and it hadn't appeared to make any difference at all, so unless it takes twenty minutes for the game to notice, that can't have been it. 

I played for quite a while, half an hour perhaps, with no difficulties whatsoever. There were, if anything, even more people than before and yet I could move, fight, talk to NPCs, open inventory, all with smooth fluidity. And then the lag came back, not quite as bad as before but bad enough to make me stop.

I went and checked the Minimum Specs. My PC meets them. Just barely, it's true. The GPU and the RAM are the lowest admissable, the CPU a couple of notches above that. I wouldn't expect to get great performance and I probably need to keep the graphics settings at Low, but it ought to run acceptably. Minimum spec does, after all, mean "This will work". 

Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. I'd like to know why.

It does confirm what I already knew, namely that I need to upgrade. With the current worldwide shortage of  components and the crazy price of graphics cards, though, it's probably not going to happen this year.

I'm hoping, once New World settles down and the crowds disperse across the landscape, most of the pressure will subside. I'm probably going to wait until launch before pushing much beyond the starting area, anyway. There doesn't seem too much point committing a whole load of time to a character that will be wiped in a couple of weeks, nor in working through content I'm going to be repeating so soon. 

And, honestly, there doesn't feel any need to explore much further. It all feels very familiar still from last year. I knew I liked the game then and nothing bad seems to have happened to it while it was off the road with the hood up.

It does feel as though Amazon might have got this one right. I guess we'll know for sure come September.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

You'll Find Me In A New World

I guess that covers it. 

Oh, what, not enough for a post? Okay, then. I suppose I can elaborate a little.

I pre-ordered New World a year and a half ago, just before Christmas 2019. By then the game had already been in development for more than three years. It's been the traditional five years in the making. Yes, really. I didn't believe it either, until I cycled back through my posting history to check.

I have twenty-two posts tagged "New World" and the first, entitled "Revelation of a New World", was in October 2016. I included a link to the forty-nine second video that told us everything we would know about the game for the next couple of years.

 

The major selling points seemed to be these:

  • A huge, open-ended sandbox game.
  • Set in 17th century America.
  • In this version of the world, the supernatural is real.
  • "The players are our content"
  • "Carve your own destiny"
  • Whatever players do to one another is up to them.

With what now sounds disturbingly like prescience, I wrote "Or that's the plan as it stands right now. The game itself is who knows how far out? Two years? Three? Five? We all know the MMO you get is very rarely the MMO you were promised. Sometimes it's barely even similar."

 A couple of years later, in August 2018, we got to hear some more about the game in the form of an interview the developers gave to a website called TechAdvisor. In this we learned that New World was in pre-alpha testing in a build that included full-loot, free-for-all PvP. It was also confirmed that the game would be highly social, would have an end-game predicated on territorial control and that the pre-alpha, in the words of the journalist who'd been given access, played "...like a survival game in the vein of Rust, Conan Exiles or Ark".

Once again, I was skeptical and once again, reading my words back, I have to wonder whether I have the gift. On the topic of full-loot PvP I wrote "This is a game in pre-alpha. Unless Amazon come out and state that full loot is a core game feature, I'd bet it won't make it out of beta. If it even gets that far". It didn't.

I wasn't even prepared to go so far as to assume New World would end up being a free-for-all PvP game at all. I could see a lot of wiggle-room being prepared, even then. As for the territorial end-game, I dismissed that as well: "As a prospective peasant... I strongly expect to be able to wander around largely oblivious to the machinations of my rulers. I will be beneath their notice and they will be above mine".

Even so, I wasn't all that impressed or excited. I didn't expect the survival mechanics to change and the game was still going to use some form of action combat. I concluded "It still doesn't look like my kind of game but who knows?" And then I signed up for the alpha anyway, because why not?

And I got in. Right at the start. I have a suspicion now that not many people can have signed up at all. Although there was a very tough NDA, quite a lot of bloggers managed to let slip that they were in and yet whenever I played the servers seemed almost empty.  

Which was a good thing. There was free for all pvp in theory but in practice I rarely saw anyone. On the occasions when I did, we gave each other a very wide berth indeed. There was one single occasion when someone tried to kill me inside a fort, something the game wouldn't allow, and I think I might once have had a fight with someone in the woods but if I did I don't remember anyone dying.

Mostly what I did was explore. The world was stunningly beautiful. I looted abandoned farmhouses and fought zombies and wolves. I gathered and crafted and generally had some very good times. When I came to play Valheim it reminded me very much of the New World alpha. New World looked far better although Valheim had the edge in gameplay. 

The NDA was tight so I didn't post much. When I did I tried to be oblique. Openly, I tried to mention as often as I could what great potential the game had and how very much different it was from the wildly inaccurate things people who had never played were saying about it.

I played on and off throughout the long alpha and when it ended I was sorry to be locked out. Thingshad been getting better and better and I wanted to play it for real. I signed up for the closed beta (and never got in) and I pre-ordered at the earliest opportunity.

Then, at the beginning of last year, Amazon dropped a bombshell. New World was no longer going to
be a PvP game. Oh, it still had PvP in it - plenty. But now it would be entirely consensual. You'd have to flag if you wanted to fight or be fought. The focus of the game was now the environment. New World had morphed into a PvE mmorpg.

That went down about as well as you might expect with a certain demographic. I imagine we'll see some pushback from the usual suspects when the servers come up later today. I suspect DDOSing Amazon will prove a little more challenging than some other targets but we'll see.

Even with the bootlegger turn I don't think many expected the game to do quite the one-eighty it has. Last summer there was a brief open preview, which I attended. I saw gameplay so changed it was barely recognizeable. There were quest hubs and storylines and all the things you'd expect from a theme park mmo. So much for the sandbox.

I was not displeased. I titled my First Impressions piece "You'll Love The New World" and I summed up my initial experience thus: "I like New World a lot... It doesn't do anything you won't have seen before but everything it does, it does well. It's solid, entertaining, accessible and polished.

That was a year ago so they've had plenty of time to polish it some more. I'm very curious to see how much more things might have changed. It's been a long, strange trip but we're almost at the end. What we see now is, finally, what we're going to get. And there's no more NDA so everything will be revealed. We'll not only find out if the change of direction has worked but whether it's been accepted.

The signs are already promising. Access to the short beta is by pre-order (guaranteed) or sign-up (random chance). Given that Amazon must perforce know how many people have pre-ordered, the startling number of servers they announced yesterday suggests this is going to be a big one.

I always said I had confidence in Amazon's ability to produce and operate a polished, professional mmorpg. Let's hope my predictive powers prove true one more time.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide