Saturday, May 31, 2014

End Of The Season : GW2

It's been a long nine weeks and this week the longest of them all. Back before it all kicked off most pundits had Yaks Bend set to place mid-table in Silver League. Fifth was a common prediction though some observers, looking back at our Season One record, speculated that, if we could bring our PvE crowd out, we might push for third.

Last night the final whistle sounded while I was sleeping the sleep of the justified. The result  was already decided. No need for me to stay up deep into Saturday morning to add my marginal value to the cause. Yak's Bend tied for second place alongside Fort Aspenwood.

It's been a rough ride. For the first few days of the final round we went flat out for an unequivocal, unshared runner-up slot. That meant targeting bolted-on winners of the overall Silver League Tournament, Henge of Denravi. The plan looked sound as we hammered at them relentlessly across the Labor Day holiday weekend and pushed them into third place.

Then, with inexplicable lack of judgment, some Isle of Janthir guilds purportedly entered into an alliance with others on HoD and we got double-teamed. While it gave us one of the most exciting days of the entire Season as we tried everything just to hold on, eventually hunkering down in the north of our own borderland to weather the storm, it did look grim for a while. There were dark mutterings and open questioning of our previous strategy as people asked why we hadn't just focused Isle of Janthir from the get-go and nailed down our second place.

But not, apparently, to stop.

Perhaps predictably, once HoD had ensconced themselves safely back in first place, thereby ensuring a perfect record of nine matches, nine wins, they immediately reneged on whatever partial promises they might have made and set about their usual hobby of taking any and every easy target that presented itself, regardless of color. Yak's Bend, meanwhile, rallied and refocused, directing our considerable ire towards Isle of Janthir. By Thursday we had everything back under control and we ran out the week over 50k ahead in second.

Was it all worth it? For the "rewards", not really. Some more very ugly skins I'd never use. A mini-pet I'd never remember to summon. I'll probably take the Ascended accessories and some crafting mats. Meh.

For the fun, excitement and entertainment value, though, it absolutely was worth it. No question. It's been enormous fun but more than that having a defined purpose and a set time in which to achieve it gives a focus to World vs World that it otherwise lacks. Moreover, it tends to skew the whole enterprise towards the team-based competition I believe it was clearly intended to be and away from the "good fights" and "guild vs guild" crowd, whose agendas tend to dominate out of season.

I'm in a golem. I said I'M IN A GOLEM!

I'm biased of course. I see WvW primarily as a siege warfare simulation set in a magic-rich environment. That means I'm in my element on Yak's Bend, a server whose least offensive nick-name is Yak's Bunker and whose reputation rests at least in part on our willingness to place more siege machinery in a single tower than most servers place on an entire borderland.

Despite our propensity for bunkering up, however, this season has seen a huge amount of open-field fighting. I've been involved in running battles that lasted for anything up to a couple of hours and my manual dexterity and motor skills have sharpened up considerably as a result. I also have the muscle memory at the moment to play a Staff Ele effectively, which adds enormously both to my usefulness to the team effort and my own satisfaction .

Sadly, that won't last. These are use it or lose it skills and after nine weeks of a diet consisting largely of world versus world I'm in need of both a palate cleanser and some new flavors. In The Mists every day dawns with a fresh battle but if the first Season is anything to go by most Yaks Benders will have woken up with a hangover (both metaphorical and physical in many cases) and many will be abstaining from WvW for a week or several, myself among them.

Or that's the plan. The whole damn thing is so addictive I can't be certain I won't fall off the wagon and get back on the warhorse (not that there are any horses in Tyria. I guess we could saddle up a moose. If we were allowed mounts...) . Just logging in this morning I see that although our post-Season Glicko score puts us back in Tier 3 we've drawn a wild card and ended up in Tier 4 along with Isle of Janthir and Borlis Pass, which should make for a fun week...only we're coming third! All of which makes me feel like grabbing my staff and heading out to do my bit. Again.

Before that happens, some post-Season observations:

Too Much Of  A Good Thing - Season One was seven weeks long. I don't know why ArenaNet decided to extend the follow-up by another two weeks but I'm pretty sure it wasn't because players complained the first one was over too quickly. I'd definitely prefer more frequent, shorter seasons.

Nine And A Half Weeks - The Season finished last night and the little UI reward chest popped up when I logged in this morning. Inside it were a few odds and ends and the thing we've supposedly all been fighting for - our Tournament Claim Tickets. I ran around a bit looking for the vendor; no sign of one. A quick trip to the forum revealed the following:

"The Tournament Rewards will be available on the Battle Historian NPC, located in all of the portal keeps, as of June 3rd."

That's going down about as well as you might expect. Given the number of New Build warnings we get after every update this seems positively designed to irritate and vex.

Pretty to think so.

Your Megaserver Broke My WvW - I'm still ambivalent about the Megaserver project. It does have its ups but one of the obvious downs is the way it wiped out, overnight, the entire concept of "rallying the troops". It used to be a big thrill to be sorting my banks in Lion's Arch and suddenly see a familiar name from WvW pop up in map chat calling for reinforcements to defend our Garrison or recruiting ground troops to support a golem rush on Stonemist Castle.

The effectiveness and alacrity with which a server was able to call in its PvE irregulars at key moments used to be a significant factor in the outcome of some matches. Yak's Bend's better-than-expected performance in Season One was put down in part to our ability to get our PvE forces onto the field when it mattered. Now, if you port back to LA or Divinity's Reach or the current World Boss map and yell for help all you'll be doing is announcing your plans to your enemies.

It could be addressed simply by adding a World Chat channel that would only be seen by people on your home world, something which would be useful in many contexts other than WvW, but sadly I suspect ANet would prefer the entire concept of "Home World" just quietly wither and die. I'll be quite surprised, although very pleased, if even WvW still uses the concept a year from now.

It was and we did.

Third Time's The Charm - I believe ANet have already confirmed there will be a third WvW Season/Tournament/Barn Dance - whatever they decide to call it. My definite feeling is that the second improved on the first in most respects but there's still a lot more that could be done.

The Swiss System did give more balanced matches than the pre-set version but it was far from perfect. It was highly predictable and tended to encourage clumping. There was also concern that there could be some match-fixing as it became more advantageous at certain times for servers to lose a match to get a win the following week. In the end I didn't see much evidence of it happening but it remained an uncomfortable possibility lurking in the background.

The Achievements, deemed too long-winded in Season One, were overtuned for ease of use this time. Some people finished the meta in the first few days. I finished one account by the end of Match Two and the second a week later. It might do more to keep the PvE crowd coming back if new achievements appeared each week rather than front-loading them all in the first match.

Pre-season transfers, especially free transfers to low-population servers, failed to take human nature into account. The idea was to encourage more equal numbers across the board but both Silver and Gold League were won by bandwagon servers filled with carpetbaggers who moved there with the specific intent of taking an easy ride to the top. Unbalanced population is a serious problem for the format but there needs to be a less-exploitable solution than this.

All of these things and many others need re-thinking so that Season Three can be the best one yet but for now let's stop and savor the many pleasures of the Season just passed. Well done Anet and well done The Yaks. Silver medal in Silver League twice in a row and best of all we did it Yak Style!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pack Your Bags. We're Going On A Long Journey : GW2

Back in the 1980s I read a lot of Superman comics. Well, not only in the 1980s. I read a lot of Superman comics in the 1960s and '70s too. In fact, I didn't really stop reading Superman comics until the mid-1990s...

Goes out. Comes in again.

Back in the 1980s I read a lot of Superman comics, most of them written either by Elliot S! Maggin or Cary Bates. The scripts weren't scintillating and the plots often didn't bear close analysis. Or, really, any analysis. That didn't matter, though, because I wasn't there for the emotional heft of the narrative or the labyrinthine intrigue of the plot. I wasn't even there for the super-heroics or not entirely.

No, I was there for the one or two pages in every issue where we got to see the day-to-day workings of the WGBS news room, where Clark Kent worked as a TV news anchor alongside Lana Lang (on whom I've had a crush since I was about 5 years old), dealing with flak from his boss, the sinister Morgan Edge, and insults about his manhood from boorish sportscaster Steve Lombard. Come for the cape, stay for the soap, in other words.

GW2's Living Story reminds me of those days, only now, instead of looking forward to finding fragments of soap opera buried under piles of plot, I'm trying to tease out tiny hints of an actual storyline buried under mountainous helpings of fluff, fancy and fisticuffs.

Seems that trick that still works on me. When's the next issue out?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

You'd Have To Pay Me To Do That : GW2

ArenaNet's response to the howls of justified outrage/whines of selfish entitlement that followed the return of the heavily re-vamped Queen's Gauntlet was surprising. Rather than return the event to its old form (never on the cards), tinker with the mechanics (always a good bet) or tweak the difficulty (pretty much odds-on) they decided instead to refurbish the reward structure.

Here's the new version from the patch notes:

  • The Crown Pavilion’s Boss Blitz event has had its rewards adjusted in the following ways:
  • Bronze Tier
    • Increased the number of champion loot bags from 2 to 6.
    • Increased the number of Festival Tokens from 15-21 to 40.
  • Silver Tier
    • Increased the number of champion loot bags from 4 to 8.
    • Increased the number of Festival Tokens from 30-36 to 60.
  • Gold Tier
    • Increased the number of champion loot bags from 8 to 10.
    • Increased the number of Festival Tokens from 46-52 to 80.

Intriguingly, this change is listed under "Bug Fixes". Hard to imagine that the original version simply shipped with the wrong numbers attached but swiftly skating over that particular stretch of thin ice...

As long as I've played GW2 people have complained loud and long about the risk vs reward structure. When the game launched Veterans and Champions were just harder, not more rewarding. They had, as far as could be ascertained, the same loot tables as normal mobs. Mostly they dropped nothing. Consequently people didn't fight them if they could avoid it.

After a while and a lot of complaining on the forums Vets and Champs got a loot pass so they at least dropped a blue or green item every time. Whoop and indeed dee-doo. Still no-one killed them.

Time passed. Complaints continued. Eventually ANet threw up its collective hands. In came The Champ Revamp. In a seeming fit of passive-aggressive "Is that what you want? Cos that's what'll happen!" overnight Champions became freighted with loot - items, skill scrolls, crafting mats, coin... you name it, they had it. All across Tyria the Champ Trains chugged out of their forgotten branch-line stations onto the main lines where hordes of eager passengers were waiting to ride them to fortune, if not to fame or glory.

In update after update a very large segment of the playerbase has demonstrated that if there's easily accessible content that can be zerged down for a reward even slightly better than five copper pieces and an Unidentifiable Object, out they will turn, in numbers. In update after update ANet have demonstrated that much, most, of the content they create is amenable to being mobbed even if that wasn't the intention. We did The Southsun Stroll, Scarlet's Invasions of Convenience, Queen's Gauntlet Mark One, Edge of the Mists Never The Teams Shall Meet 24/7 Champ Farm and many more now forgotten.

Eventually ANet appeared to tire of the players endlessly innovative ways of turning finely-tuned content into the zergfest du jour. In came Tequatl, the Marionnette, Three-Headed Wurm, the Fall of Lion's Arch and now Boss Blitz, all sending out the message loud and clear - play the damn game the right way, not the lazy way. To which the general reply has been "make it worth our while and we will", the problem most players having with these events not being, on the whole that they are too hard but that they are too hard for the time and effort they take.

There does seem to be a fundamental disconnect between the GW2 players and developers on what constitutes a fair reward. Developers remain convinced, for example, that a handful of green quality Mastercrafted items provides a suitable and satisfying reward despite all evidence to the contrary.

The policy even extends beyond simple loot drops and event rewards. Look no further than the vendor just added to swap out surplus Blade Shards. To quote ArenaNet some weeks back when they trailed it thus:

"Please don’t delete them!

You can hold on to your extra blade shards, as the team will be adding something later which will allow you to convert the shards to something of value."

What was the something of value? A green item. The very same item, that is to say, which will either be sold to a vendor for a pittance or deconstructed for crafting mats and Essence of Luck, which builds Magic Find, which is desired because it increases the chances of getting better loot than Greens, which no one wants to get if they can avoid it.

Players do not, as a rule, enjoy getting poor quality items as a reward for a big fight. They'd rather have an item of reasonable quality or a fixed amount of currency with which they can buy one. Hell, they'd probably take a choice of nothing at all most times against a good chance of a much better item, so long as that item dropped at a frequency that felt fair.

In the absence of anything genuinely desirable being offered, however, many pragmatic players are willing to settle for a pile of intrinsically useless junk so long as it can be sold or converted into something useful and, most importantly, so long as the pile is big enough to make them feel they haven't completely wasted their time. The pile now on offer for running the Queen's Gauntlet has been weighed and found to be just about adequate. The sputtering, failing festival is, fitfully, back in business.

I did the Gauntlet three times last night. I had to Guest to change megaserver maps to find one that wasn't utterly shambolic. I lucked onto one filled with good-spirited, polite, pleasant, conversational players. First run was a shambles but instead of everyone leaving a big discussion began on how we could do better, commander tags were popped, people co-operated, we took another run at it and had five bosses down with two minutes to go on the Silver timer.

We failed that one and took Bronze but everyone was upbeat. Several people commented it was the closest they'd ever come to Silver. I hadn't planned on staying but it was such a pleasant environment I changed my mind and lined up for another try. After a shaky start we went into Silver Time two bosses down. With two minutes left we still had two bosses to go but unlike last time, when the Ogre was at full health and proved too much for the half-dozen players trying not to scale him, both were around 30%.

When the last boss went down there were three seconds left on the clock. It was exciting, satisfying and entertaining and I'd had enough and so had most everyone else. The commanders tagged down and people drifted off. I de-guested and went to the Borderlands, where I remained for the next four hours until bedtime.

It's not that I don't, won't or can't enjoy ANet's new direction, then, even though my personal preference remains very strongly skewed towards the open, inclusive, come-as-you-are approach that we were promised in the long run-up to launch. You may remember it as the paradigm shift in gameplay that would change MMOs forever. Well, they tried that and it came out very differently to how they expected so now we all have to revise our expectations.

That's okay. MMOs change. This one's changed a bit more and a bit faster than most but never mind, buckle up, let's get on with it. As the Marionnette and last night's QG run demonstrate, there is indeed fun to be had here if you're willing to adapt.

Except that if we're going to revamp the game to fit in structured content that requires organization, don't we also need to revamp the UI so that we can, y'know, organize? At the moment it feels like some kind of management bonding game where a bunch of people who only met ten minutes ago have to figure out a way to get across a river using a pile of planks and a yo-yo.

The current bad feeling around the game most likely isn't caused by players' lack of interest or willingness try new things. No, more likely it's the sense that we're being taken for mugs, treated like a resource not an asset. We shouldn't have to scratch and scrabble for fun in a game, especially one that likes to bill itself as open and inclusive.

Sort out the risk vs reward (and in GW2 "risk" really means "time spent"). Sort out the mechanics. Give us raid frames and instances and in-game voice chat. Design content that we want to play and give us the means to play it instead of having to play against it. Turn your game into the kind of game you said it was going to replace if you must, only at least do it well.

Maybe then the rage will subside and the whining will die down. Then again...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Let Them Eat Grumble Cake : GW2

For something that was expected, and no doubt intended, to be a pleasant, relaxing palate-cleanser before the increasingly eagerly-awaited (at least in some corners) Living Story Season Two, the Festival of the Four Winds/Queen's Gauntlet double-header has turned out be a right old controversy generator. Little blame for that can be laid at the gangplank of the Zephyrites. No, it all seems to be Queen Jennah's fault. Again.

Really, she doesn't have much luck with her celebrations. Last time she sent out the Balloonateers to ferry all-comers to Divinity's Reach, her robots went Westworld and Scarlet Briar tried to kill her. At least that time the entertainment she laid on went down tolerably well with the masses, or as we should more properly call them, the zergs.

This time round Scarlet's safely sidelined, six under we assume, although decades of super-villain training tells me never to believe it even if you saw the body buried. Which, come to think of it, we never did, did we? Suspicions aside, she's certainly not around to throw her unfeasibly large mannequin into the works, her aether pirates have found easier plunder who knows where (are they still hanging out in Edge of the Mists? I never go there. I wouldn't know) and all the rest of her motley mash-ups have vanished back down whatever holes they came came from; literally in the case of the Dredge.

Ironic foreshadowing.

No doubt about it then, there's no-one to blame for two of the most unpopular decisions of recent times but Queen Jennah. First she demotes all the Champions in Queensdale to veteran status, thereby closing down the popular Queensdale Champion Train. Then, and you can almost hear her ironic, if regal, laughter, she sends all the Gauntlet Champions on a training course to learn each other's tricks.

Consequence: no more fun times for The People. The forums ring with recriminations. Syp and Ravious offer more considered analyses. Jeromai may be the lone voice striking up in Queen Jennah's defence.

You Zephyrites have some questions to answer too. Call yourself traders? This is a load of old tat!

Meanwhile the Charr stands alone. Never liked the Gauntlet anyway. Was dull, still is. Only thing that's changed is it used to be dull and profitable and now its just dull. Well I imagine it is. Only spent ten minutes there. Better things to do. As for the Queensdale Train, never did it, won't miss it. All the same, makes you think.

It's all very well being blase about these things when they don't affect you but once royalty get the idea they can just lop off any head that doesn't please them you have to wonder whose head might be next. I hope Rytlock's paying attention. Don't we have some kind of treaty? Shouldn't he be calling in the Human ambassador about now and asking what the hell Jennah thinks she's playing at?

Bread and circuses, Your Majesty, if you want you keep the crown on your head. Not bread and water.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Come And Have A Go If You Think You're Hard Enough (Emotionally)

There's been something of a blogging roundtable on PvP going on recently. J3w3l has most of the links in these two posts as well as a thoughtful take on PvP as end-game content.

As must be plain from yesterday's breathless report on the current state of play in Yak's Bend's bid for Tourney glory, I'm far from averse to a little consensual PvP action, or indeed a lot, but I wasn't always quite as blase about being virtually murdered. I chose Everquest over Ultima Online as my first foray into online gaming specifically because of the horror stories I'd read. Spending two hours chopping wood only to be chopped down yourself the minute you stepped out of the forest. That sort of thing.

All the same, the idea retained some kind of sick fascination and I did make characters on EQ's Zek servers although I never really played any of them to any meaningful level. Actually, it was kind of hard to level up on Rallos Zek, the Free-for-All ruleset server, seeing as how a brand new character could be and usually was ganked on spawning into the game for the first time.  I don't believe I ever got my Ogre as far as his guildmaster even though he was probably standing only a few feet away.

When Dark Age Of Camelot arrived it was a very big deal. Western fantasy MMORPGs were not thick on the ground back then (I know, hard to believe...) and a new one was something quite special. As I recall, Mrs Bhagpuss and I were moderately apprehensive about the Realm vs Realm aspect but the draw of a new world to explore, not least one based on myths and legends we'd grown up with, was too much to resist.

DAOC was where I learned three things:

  1. I enjoy PvP, in moderation.
  2. PvP and PvE sit uncomfortably together.
  3. Left to their own devices, other players make poor content providers.
Number One is largely a matter of personal taste and personality. For some people the entire concept of entertaining yourself by doing bad things to other people, even if the bad things are imaginary and the other people said they were up for it, is just morally wrong. For others there never comes a time when getting shanked by a player playing a rogue feels the same as getting shivved by a rogue running under AI.

Plenty of people, for all kinds of perfectly good reasons, don't like, and will never learn to like, fighting other players. Plenty more, while naturally nervous at the start, will soon get the hang of things and find that, like roughage, some PvP now and again makes for a healthy MMO diet.

PvE in the open world. It stands for Player vs Exhaustion.
 Number Three has been discussed here before. DAOC hadn't been out for very long at all before some of the shortcomings of the concept and design began to make themselves felt. Leaving aside the problems of my hardware, which turned large battles into slide-shows, DAOC fights could be both thrilling and entertaining but they were also utterly unreliable. If you come home from work on a Friday night ready for a little blood-letting, nothing sours the mood like spending two hours roaming an empty borderland looking for someone to fight.

Mythic didn't take long to recognize the problem, which is how we came to get instanced Battlegrounds. If you were looking for trouble you'd come to the right place. Except that even in Battlegrounds it turned out not everyone came just for the fight. Some people wanted to win. There were evenings where I spent two hours waiting in vain outside one of the other team's portal keeps for someone, anyone to come out because no-one wanted to move until they thought they had enough troops. Sometimes there just weren't even numbers so no-one fought anyone.

As time went on the process got refined and revised by other developers in other games. WoW, Warhammer, Rift, EQ2 - they all have automated matchmaking systems for their instanced PvP areas, drawing from a sufficiently large pool of people, usually cross-server, to ensure enough turn up to get a fight started. Specific objectives, often with timers and rewards, ensure that there's action, not just a staring contest. WoW with Wintergrasp, GW2 with The Mists and TESO with Cyrodiil combine the original "Frontier" concept with Battleground mechanics and spread the result across whole maps, zones or regions.

It's not End Game unless there's a Dragon in it somewhere

That leaves Number Three: mixed content. Some people swear by it, others swear about it. There's no question that it's not for everyone. I didn't play Vanilla WoW but it's notable how many of the rosy-tinted reveries I've read about those halcyon days come freighted with anecdotes about the running battles around Tarren Mill or the city invasions. Indeed, that's become such a predominant narrative that, not having been there myself, I just had to google to find out if WoW actually had any non-PvP servers at launch (it did).

Theme park MMOs, to use that less-than-helpful shorthand, rely very heavily on authored content. It's problematic enough when they allow players to kill NPCs in a kind of PvP proxy war; allowing one player to gank another just before she completes a long and difficult quest...well, you see the problem. Somehow I can't quite see revenge killings standing in for Heroic Dungeons as end-game content for PvE players.

Sandboxes, though, that's a different matter, isn't it? Somehow PvP and sandboxes have become almost inextricably linked in the minds of MMO players and developers, to the point where even Landmark purports to be heading down a road that might include non-consensual player versus player combat up to and including the destruction of players' homes and properties.

There's really no reason sandboxes have to be competitive. They could just as easily be co-operative. Xsyon, the little talked-about FFA PvP MMO once touted as a rival for the rather more talked-about Darkfall, recently chose to open a pure PvE server. Whether that was a flailing bid to keep a sinking ship afloat or a response to in-game demand I have no idea. It did, briefly, make me consider downloading the game though. Briefly.

Opinions are like tails. Everybody has one.

What's the point of all this rambling then? There isn't one as such. There's no right answer, no one true path. I have no great insight to bring to the debate. Mostly its that, much though I might enjoy it if it happened, I find the idea that any form of open world PvP could ever stand in for constructed, organized developer-led content quite hard to swallow.

The numbers of PvP servers and the size of their populations in what we might call mainstream MMOs suggests that both demand and take-up among players is relatively low. Even in large, successful MMOs that have easily accessible instanced PvP my guess is it goes unused by the majority of players. My guess is also that, expensive and time-consuming though it may be to produce, some form of top-down, provided content, be it dungeons, raids or narrative events, is likely to make up the bulk of end-game content for PvE MMOs for a good while yet. Player-made content like that found in Neverwinter's Foundry may carry some of the load but the real heavy lifting is still going to have to be done by paid professionals, much though their paymasters might prefer otherwise.

Unless someone can come up with some entirely new idea. That'd be nice.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Honor Of The Yak : GW2

Cancel all leave! Put all plans on hold!. We're in the penultimate match of the nine-match WvW Tourney and all hell has broken loose on Yak's Bend.

While undeniably an improvement on the system used in Season One, the much-ballyhooed Swiss matchmaking system turned out to have certain...flaws. After the first three weeks we had fallen into a comfortable pattern. We'd face two worlds ranked above us, come third, take one point. We'd drop a tier and face two servers ranked below us, come first and take five points. Rinse, repeat.

This would have left us tying for third place at the end of the season, a better result than had been widely predicted. Most people on YB, if they were paying any attention at all, probably assumed, as I did, that we'd just roll merrily on like this until the season hit the buffers. Only someone else had other ideas.

The charismatic commander I referred to a while back took a couple of matches to warm up but these last couple of weeks he has been incandescent. Two weeks ago, a week when we should have come third according to the pattern, he launched an all-out blitzkrieg on Fort Aspenwood, at one point wiping them completely off their own map and reducing them momentarily to a PPT of zero. As a result we came second that week and the pattern was broken.

Are you sure this is a good idea?

Unsurprisingly, this caused some murmurs of concern among the troops and even a few of of the other Commanders. There are posted rewards for placement in this Season and some people care about them. Others care about where we rank. By breaking the pattern we put ourselves, potentially, in a more difficult position.

Last week, the general feeling was, we needed to beat Stormbluff Isle and come second just to keep ourselves in contention. Even if we were up to that task, and most of us felt we were, there was a certain amount of concern that our fate might not be entirely in our own hands, because Henge of Denravi, the bandwagon server du jour, was perfectly capable of putting enough bodies on the ground to crush either opponent at their whim and quite possibly both at the same time.

Or, rather, they used to be. That was how they operated for the first six weeks of the season, crushing all opposition, racking up six straight wins and nailing down an unassailable first place come Tourney's End, which is, once again, how a pattern came to change. For a server to which huge numbers moved specifically so they could place first overall the job had effectively been done. Why go on fighting when the war is already won many of them must have reasoned. The HoD hordes thinned, leaving behind a hard, skilled but much-reduced core.

Golem flying a kite - always a sign things are going well

So, we beat SBI and came second. All the Commanders now seemed to be on message. We have spies so strategy no longer gets discussed in open channels and most co-ordination between commanders goes on in voice chat, inaudible and unexplained to field grunts like me. The results, however, much tighter co-ordination, better response times, a clear if veiled sense of a plan being carried out, seem quite apparent.

All of which meant that, going into week eight, we were in a more precarious position than ever. HoD are a busted flush. A couple of their guilds apparently did some name-calling that our Glorious Leader took to heart so we spent the last few days of Match Seven sitting in their Garrison while holding all their Keeps. A few weeks back they'd have swarmed us like army ants. Now they simply can't bring those numbers out.

For the first 48 hours of match number eight the assault on The Henge continued, driving the broken steamroller into third place for the week, where it looks like it will remain. The upshot of which is that we need not just to come second this week but first. It's a hard road that leads to the exact same place to which we could have slouched comfortably but if we make it, oh the tales we'll have to tell.

You can never have too many Omegas : old Yak's Bend proverb

Late Sunday evening my time we shifted gears and turned on FA. Four hours of the most intense defense I've ever enjoyed in WvW followed before I had to call it a night. FA tried over and over to take Bay on our borderland to establish a foothold to swat us down like the upstarts they undoubtedly think we are. They couldn't do it. Nor could their other teams take Hills or Garrison while we were hunkered down in Bay.

They came again and again, getting as far as the Lord's room, where we wiped them every time. I was on my full zerker Ele and the destruction was glorious. Of all the classes and builds I've played in WvW, which is a lot, it's the one in which I feel most effective. I've never been a big fan of DPS classes but when you're in a pressure situation like that and you can see your rain of fire wilting the attack it's very satisfying. I also die far less than I thought I would and there's always the option to switch to Water and pump out the best healing in the game (faint praise, I know).

It's not a great screenshot but its the only one I remembered to take.

At one stage we had the full FA zerg in Bay along with about twenty or so HoD doing their hyena opportunist thing. When I went to bed Yak's Bend Borderland had been queued for an hour. Waking up this morning I see we've closed the gap on FA from the 12k it was when I logged out to less than 5k. It's going to be a tough week with another like it to follow.

If we pull it off, our reward will almost certainly be an out-of-season ranking we can't sustain and a series of heavy defeats as we slip back down. Just like last time. Yak's Bend is clearly what, in football terms, would be called a "Cup Side". If there's a structured competition with a series of vital matches we'll bring our A-Game. Week after week in the leagues - not so much.

SynCaine, talking about why TESO's PvP hasn't worked for him, said recently:

"The huge PvP zone is a giant improvement over GW2’s WvW. Bigger map, better siege equipment, better combat system, better performance; just all around superior. Yet I’m as excited to spent time there as I was in GW2; not much. Other than PvP for the sake of PvP, what am I doing there? I really don’t feel connected or care about the outcome, large or small."

This is the core of it. For many of us playing WvW in GW2 we do feel connected to the outcome. I'm fighting alongside many of the same players on Yak's Bend now as I was in the weeks right after launch and even more who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me during some of our astonishing achievements during Season One.
You can say that again. And again. And again.

I chose Yak's Bend for emotional reasons before GW2 even went into the first beta weekend. I have never played for any other server and unless they merge us I never will. I know exactly what I'm doing there. I'm defending the Honor of the Yak. As time goes on it becomes apparent that almost all other servers can't stand Yak's Bend. Good. It would be awful to be "that plucky little server". We're bloody-minded nuisances and proud of it. We'll ruin anyone's day if we can (although unlike some servers I might mention we'll do it without cheating, hacking or exploiting). If we win, all well and good. If not, well we gave the other guy some bruises he'll remember for a while.

This is why SynCaine is both right and wrong at the same time. PvP does need to matter. If you don't feel it then what is the point? But you can't assume that just because it doesn't matter to you it doesn't matter to anyone. Emotional commitment is earned, yes, but it's also given.

Yaks Bend may finish the Season in glory or we may end it in ashes but we'll know one thing either way: we didn't just sit back and work the odds, we gave it our best shot. Can't ask more than that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Marking Time In Landmark

What with all the pre-launch frenzy for WildStar and the post-launch angst over TESO, no-one seems to have been paying much attention to Landmark. The stately, some might say funereal, pace of development must also take the blame for some of that loss of focus, of course. It's hard to make much of a song and dance about weekly updates that do little more than tweak the UI, fix bugs and add some props.

Nonetheless, there have been some significant changes of late. Most recently there's been a major revamp to the New Player Experience. As in: now there is one.

Previously, new players were largely left to fend for themselves. That seemed to work well enough for the mix of intrepid alpha-testers and obsessive builders who formed the initial cadre several months ago but that lack of direction, or indeed basic information, didn't sit so comfortably with the less informed and/or committed recipients of one-week closed beta keys.

Now we have a neat and rather elegant series of hints, tips and instructions that appear in series of well-designed pop-up windows. There's a general guide on Getting Started, a schematic outlining the tool progression system, a reference sheet for building commands and controls (several of which were new to me) and a really excellent visual guide to resource gathering.

It's a polite, unobtrusive alternative to a full-on tutorial that brings together a wide range of information that was previously scattered across many forum posts, placing it all where it needs to be - in the game. It's one of the best new player toolsets I've seen. I just hope they don't over-complicate it later on.

It's surprising how much this addition, along with numerous improvements to the UI such as remote access to both claim management and recipes and real-time resource tracking have done to make Landmark feel like a "game" rather than just a disparate set of tools. Quality of life aside, there's now the definite feeling of a framework being assembled upon which something resembling a recognizeable MMO could be built.

Don't get too excited, though. There's evidently still a very long way to go before we have anything that might catch and hold the attention of an averagely curious casual customer. Combat, for example, is still two months away, tentatively blueprinted for "July" but we did at least get to learn something about how it might look in a recent Round Table discussion between Affable Omeed Dariani (as I'm sure Stan Lee would have dubbed him had he worked for Merry Old Marvel back in the day) and Lead Systems Designer Michael Mann.

It's more than a little ironic that this is supposed to be an Everquest Next discussion and yet almost all of it relates directly to Landmark but, putting that aside, there's a lot of interesting detail. I couldn't help but notice that most of the examples seemed to be given an implicit PvP slant. PvP has been pushed right off the end of the four-month blueprint into the vague fog of "after August" but I'm still getting a very strong vibe that someone with significant authority in the Landmark team sees this as a PvP game first and foremost.

Back in the now, the first iteration of water arrived a couple of weeks ago, turning nominal "islands" into actual islands. Actual virtual islands... Whatever... At the moment you can walk on the water, albeit less like Jesus, more like Michael Flatley having a seizure, but the blueprint allows for swimming both above and below the surface. Whether there's any plan to connect the ocean segments so you can swim (or sail, should we ever get boats) from one island to another I don't know but if we could it would go a long way towards making the unnamed Landmark biosphere feel more world-like, something it definitely will need if it is going to offer itself out as a full-feature MMO.

The sea does look great though. It's a gorgeous Mediterraean blue and it swooshes about like someone swirling a bowlful of half-set jelly (look, I may like to use Americanisms and US spellings but I am not going so far as to type "jello" non-ironically, alright?). The big islands also now have a scattering of smaller islands around the coast, which make for very attractive claims. Some people have already relocated and I might well join them after The Wipe, when ever that comes.

Ah, yes. The Wipe. We always new it was coming and it's been something of  drag factor on commitment but until last week there was a safety-net that kept people plugging away at the big, time-consuming projects. The original FAQ made it clear that once we made it out of alpha we would keep all progress, items and resources through any wipe or wipes that might be necessary during beta. Moreover, we would keep everything other than the right to a specific claim location when we transitioned into Open Beta/Soft Launch.

In other words, any time or effort spent during closed beta would not be ephemeral. This was, in my opinion, a not-insignificant part of the offer for which money changed hands when the various Founder's Packs were purchased.

Here's the precise text, crossed through by SOE Customer Rep Drexella to indicate that it is no longer valid :

End of Closed Beta Wipe:

  • Timing: Occurs at the end of Closed Beta testing
  • Character: Your character and all progression will be retained
  • Claims: Your claim(s) will be wiped. All claims will be templated so that you have blueprints of what you built.
  • Resources and Collected Objects: All resources and collected objects will be retained.

All that is the past. The new FAQ reads

End of Closed Beta Wipe

  • Timing: Occurs at the end of Closed Beta testing (date TBA).
  • You retain everything purchased from SOE during Alpha and Closed Beta (Founder’s Pack and Showcase items), plus any templates you created during Alpha and Closed Beta. Everything else will be reset during the wipe.
This has generated a 48-page threadnaught on the Forums, a lot of anger and argument and many claims that Landmark is now a ghost town. It's certainly killed any desire I had to do more than mess around and even Mrs Bhagpuss has ceased to do much on her amazing tromp l'oeil project, although there may be other factors in that (cough *WvW Tourney* cough).

I logged in this week for the first time in a while, mostly to pay my rent so my Claim wouldn't vaporize like it already has, twice. The Island I'm on has never been busy but currently there are only about a dozen active claims, mostly clustered around the Spires in the center, and when I say "active" I really just mean "rent paid". Whether anyone's still building is hard to tell but there's certainly no sign of any of the spectacular constructions so loved by the PR department.

That's just one island, though. I took some time to hop around using the Gallery system, currently showing 141 pages of visitable claims, albeit many of them by the same people, and the "ghost town" theory seems a tad overblown. Several islands were showing "Medium" load and active claims on those looked pretty densely packed. The sky may not be falling after all.

That's roughly how things stand at the moment. I'm probably going to keep my powder dry until Combat arrives in July, just logging in once or twice a week to check out updates and pay my rent. It's been and continues to be an interesting experience but whether I'd repeat it  by joining another MMO at such a very early stage I'm not sure. I'm definitely going to hold off until Open Beta for ArcheAge.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Catching A Breath

It's one of those annoying weeks where I have time either to play or to post but not both. It says a lot for my current state of satisfaction with the MMO world that I'd much rather play.

It's not at ll that I have nothing I want to write about, either. There's the current State of the Game over at Landmark, now accommodating Wilhelm once again, for a limited time only, and where changes to the FAQ relating to what you get to keep after a wipe have been causing consternation. There's the winding-down WildStar beta, whose luster is wearing off for Jeromai, and the question of just how many rats are jumping off the sinking TESO ship, raised by Keen's "We Quit" post.

There are a couple of burgeoning debates I'd like to get into. Tobold raised some very interesting issues concerning questing, which tie in to something Keen (him again) was saying on the subject, while Azuriel and Zubon have been riffing on the well-worn theme of "it's friends that drive retention", a topic on which I've long had some non-party-line thoughts I've wanted to share.

Excuse me? Is this the line for the Queen's Gauntlet?

Then there's The Tourney, as no-one calls Season 2 of GW2's WvW competition any more, in which very interesting things have been happening, at least in the match I'm in. It could get more interesting yet next week, since, right at the climax, ArenaNet have chosen to open possibly their two most successful Living Story features (apart from Super Adventure Box, of course) from last year. The Bazaar of the Four Winds and the Queen's Gauntlet. Just what that might do to populations on the Borderlands is anyone's guess.

Finally, there's my ongoing investigation into leveling a new character under the twin dooms of the Megaserver and the Trait Revamp (spoiler - I'm still lovin' it). And quite probably a whole load other stuff besides. But it's either write or play and I'm off to do the latter.

With luck I'll get into some of this in detail at the weekend, although chances are by then there'll be a whole new mess o' stuff going on. How anyone can get bored either with MMOs or blogging about them beats me...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Second Impressions : WildStar

Let's get one thing out of the way right at the start. I was wrong. WildStar is not, as I commented in response to Jeromai's thoughtful and revealing "First Impressions" post yesterday, " of the ugliest MMOs I’ve ever played".

I would like to withdraw that opinion entirely and offer my apologies to Carbine and their artists and designers for my rush to a hasty and inaccurate appraisal. Moreover, I would like to acknowledge that Tobold was entirely correct to point out that "the game only opens up in the third zone" and that, by implication, I probably should have waited until I got into what you might call the "game proper" before passing judgment.  In my own defense I can only offer that, if you don't want your new MMO to be judged on what players see in the Tutorial, you probably shouldn't make your Tutorial GO ON FOREVER!

Every hair of the bear reproduced.
Corrections made, apologies behind me, from the lofty heights of level nine (still a level shy of the optimum TRIL (Tobold's Recommended Impression Level) I am going to go out on a limb and say this:

I like WildStar.

I wasn't expecting to like it. I didn't especially want to like it. It just so happens I do like it. It's gaudy, goofy, and just plain daft but it has...something. Specifically, it has lots and lots of somethings from other MMOs, most of which I liked the first time round and am happy to see given another airing. It's like watching one of those movies where you can spot all the director's influences yet without feeling that you'd rather be watching those movies instead.

No longer the ugliest but definitely still the busiest.
Just to take one very obvious example: The Lopp. Having done no research whatsoever into WildStar's world and lore, my introduction to The Lopp came in-game as I ran across a bridge in the first non-tutorial zone on the Dominion side. Not for the first (or the last) time in this morning's three-hour session, what I saw there in front of my Chua Engineer provoked a fully-articulated "What the...!?" from me, sitting at home staring at the screen in confused disbelief.

In this case what I was staring at appeared to be a two-foot tall moustachioed rabbit with three-foot long ears and eyes the size of dinner plates, wearing a fez and carrying a spear. Even in the avowedly non-realistic setting of Nexus this introduction came as something of a surprise but that particular example of the species turned out to be a sartorial conservative compared to his Chieftain, who appeared to have been dressed by a five-year old girl on a Haribo high and to be rather pleased about it.

Why do you call us "Big Folk" when your ears alone are taller than I am?

The Lopp, then, don't closely resemble anything seen in a Western MMO before, or not by me, at least. Long-tailed rabbits in fancy dress that walk around on their hind legs (although come to think of it, none of them do "walk". They all stand in place and...jiggle.). Never seen anything like them at all - until they open their mouths.

I forget where I first heard the word "shiny", now such a recognizable MMO trope. It might have been among the Ratonga in EQ2 or maybe it comes from WoW or the Goblin Beast-Tribe in either of the Final Fantasies. I do know, however, that for the past two years I have associated it most closely with The Skritt, GW2's race of bipedal rats, who spend most of their time running about squeaking about "shinies", at least until enough of them gather in one place to generate the hive mind intelligence that allows them to focus on something beyond the surface sheen of objects (most likely World Domination, if you believe the Asura, although you can put that down to professional jealousy. Probably.)

A short conversation with Chieftain Aleli at the Lopp camp at Glitterfur Caravan later, however, and it's like we've slipped sidewise into Tyria. They talk in fractured English (with a cod Eastern European accent, which may be in dubious taste but at least makes a change from all the cod British accents that make The Dominion seem not so much like an Evil Empire, more The Dick van Dyke Memorial Home for "resting" character actors).

The Lopp (and yes, I do see what you did there...) exhibit less than stellar intelligence (when asked how they got to Nexus they reveal they hitched a lift with some other race because they have no "Vroom ships" of their own).

Umm...I am a Chua, in case you hadn't noticed.
Most importantly, they will do anything for other races' cast-offs, which they see as the greatest of treasures or, more accurately, you will do anything, because yes, of course, WildStar is at heart a quest-driven MMO and Glitterfur Caravan is a Quest Hub. So, kill these wolves Highland Howlers, gather these ground spawns shinies, earn faction, open up more quests, rinse/repeat.

Whether this appeals all depends on your tolerance for whimsy, repetitive actions and barely competent voice acting. No device with the capacity to measure my tolerance for at least two out of those three has yet been invented, so I was in Hog Heaven, as no-one in England has ever said, even ironically.

Moving from Quest Hub to Quest Hub is not my thing so I mostly just ran around, spoke to anyone with the traditional exclamation hat, said "I can do that!" to them all in blithe disregard of my capabilities (largely unknown) or their intentions (largely ignored). I'm already playing my Chua as a bumbling innocent, a kind of cross between Benny the Ball from Top Cat and  John Finnemore's character Arthur Shappey from the magnificent Cabin Pressure so helping people without knowing why or what for counts as roleplaying.

In the process there was a lot of fighting. Mob density isn't uncomfortably tight in WildStar but neither are agro ranges insignificant. Also, I have a Big Gun and an Artillery Bot - I'm going to go around a cow? I don't think so! And anyway, here's another surprise:

I like WildStar's combat.

It's not pretty but then why should it be? This is War!
I really wasn't expecting to say that. It looks horrible in videos and even worse in static screenshots. All those jarring "telegraphs" aka ugly red grids. Written descriptions of how it works make it sound fiddly-faddly, awkward, unimmersive and just plain annoying. It's none of those things.

Turns out the telegraphs are quite fun to play with and before long they look no less jarring than spell effects and explosions. The double-tap dodge is easy to use although I'd prefer a hot-key like the divided hemisphere GW2 provides as an alternative. Dodge is a bit of a luxury at these levels anyway. A spritely Chua can often simply scuttle to one side and get out of the box without having to dodge and that old favorite, back-pedalling with both barrels blazing, hasn't stopped being highly effective yet.

You'd never guess it to look at him but there's nothing he likes better than a kick-around.
And he didn't even want to use me as the ball!

There's much, much more I could say about WildStar even at this very early stage. Like how dense and packed the Lore appears to be, with books filled with lengthy text lying around all over the place and NPCs just falling over themselves to go into detailed, if pithy, explanations and explications. Or how complex (maybe just complicated but let's give it the benefit) the progression appears to be, clearly enough to keep a player like me occupied for a good, long time). Or how visually intriguing (if seemingly flat in places and over-busy in others) the world is, full of curious little details and quirks just begging to be examined at considerable leisure.

Over the remaining week I'd like to get to level 10 and take a look at both crafting and housing, then to level as far again on the Exile side (where I just bet every voice actor speaks with either an authentic North American or cod-Spanish accent...) to see how that grass grows. Even at this very early stage, though, I can say for certain that, were WildStar launching with a F2P model I would be playing it at launch and if it were Buy To Play I'd have pre-ordered.

Over 'ere son! On me 'ead!

For very much the reasons Jeromai outlines in his reply to my comment at his post linked above, however, there is no chance I will be buying WildStar as a subscription game. I would like to play it but I would not rather play it than the MMOs I am already playing (or not playing...) and therefore a subscription makes no sense for me at this time.

That's not to say I don't think it's worthy of a subscription: as a main MMO it almost certainly is. Meanwhile I'll play it as and when there are free trials or offers and bide my time until either the game changes payment models or I'm at a sufficiently loose MMO end that a subscription would make sense.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Past, Present and Future : City of Steam, TESO, WildStar, ArcheAge

City of Steam : Arkadia

Having moaned on about not playing enough MMOs I thought I'd better do something about it, so yesterday I logged back into City of Steam for the first time in months. I pulled that one from the bench because of the surprising news that Mechanist Games are opening two new servers, one in Europe and one on the U.S East Coast. It's remarkable enough these days to hear of any MMO adding servers, but for a game that was closed down due to lack of interest just six months ago it's positively mind-boggling.

City of Steam has generally been promoted as a browser-based MMO and I've played it that way, where it works perfectly well and looks perfectly fine. There is, however, also a micro-client you can download (top left). I fired it up and maybe it was that or maybe it's just that I haven't played for a while and forgot quite how good the graphics are, but everything looked just stunning. If only they'd put in a proper screenshot function and a way to hide the UI...

My first impression on returning from hiatus: wow, it's busy! It could have been a slightly misleading impression, because Nexus is busy anyway - busy with NPCs, broadcast announcements, ambient sound. It's always felt like a very live, occupied space even when there were few players in evidence. Roaming around regaining my bearings, though, it was apparent that there were plenty of people playing. And they did seem to be playing this time, not just parked afk for hours doing the automated exercise routines that marked the end-times for the previous incarnation of the game.

Those exercises still exist, though, because Mechanist seem quite happy to do most of the playing for you if that's what you want. Not only can you safely go off to work or to bed and leave your character to level up (slowly) via calisthenics in your absence, you can go into a dungeon, press a button and have your character auto-complete it, collecting all the loot as she goes.

When it comes to dungeons, though, it appears the safety harness is off. I tried it out of curiosity and for the first few minutes everything went swimmingly. I was beginning to think it was my long-held dream of a full graphics version of Progress Quest come true. Then, about half-way in and for no reason that I could explain, my Goblin decided she'd around  run the entire remaining length of the dungeon, gathering up every mob she could find into an enormous train the like of which hasn't been seen since Karnor's in its pomp.

I just sat back and watched in horrified fascination until she finally seemed satisfied she had enough, turned round and began to fight all 30+ of them. Give her and her mercenary their due - they had half of them down before they were overwhelmed. When you die in CoS you have three choices: Revive in the City and lose all progress in the dungeon or pay to come back to life where you are, either with in-game Spiremarks or cash shop currency Electrum.

I have several thousand Spiremarks saved up so I used a few of those, which of course
popped me up right in the middle of the remaining mobs. With my hands on the controls this time, however, I was able to whittle them down and get things back on track. Don't think I'll be using the autopilot again in a hurry.

And why would you want to, really? Combat is a real pleasure in City of Steam. The guns bang loudly, the explosions are really explody, the monsters are highly and amusingly animated and everythng feels very tactile. People who play Diablo and other ARPGs have commented that all CoS is just another in that long line of clones but I beg to differ and for one very good reason: CoS has a full-function, moveable camera. That one factor makes it playable and enjoyable for me in a way that the fixed, over the shoulder, three-quarter perspective never can.

So the graphics, the combat and the ambiance sucked me back in right away but there were also some quite notable improvements. The whole interface has been given a polish pass and for once it seems to have worked. I can't begin to remember how many different UIs and systems CoS has been through since I first saw it in the Sneak Peak more than two years ago. It's suffered horribly from the can't-leave-well-aloneitis that seems to infect so many MMO developers. At last the wheel seems to have stopped on WIN and I just hope Mechanist can resist giving it yet another spin.

I played for a couple of hours and didn't really want to stop. I've been thinking about it again today and when I finish this I'll go give it another run. It's never going to be the MMO I hoped it would be but it looks as though it might be settling down into something well worth a few hours here and there, now and again, on and off, which is a much brighter prospect than it appeared to have not so very long ago.


Looking to the future, there seems to be quite a buzz building up around ArcheAge. Trion's buy-in alpha is getting plenty of blog action, with Liore and Stargrace leading the pack. Chris raised the intriguing prospect that ArcheAge could be the new Vanguard and Ardwulf, who really knows his Vanguard, sees his point.

If they're right that'd be wonderful because in less than three months we're going to need a new Vanguard, but while I don't want to say we've been here before, well, we've been here before. There's always a God-Game along to perk us up right after the last God-Game let us down. Once upon a time Vanguard was that game. ArcheAge was on my radar long before the current flurry of interest and that's where it's staying. Like The Chindividual, I'll pass on giving Trion £110 for alpha access. I might stump up the £37 they want for beta if word-of-mouth continues to be as strongly positive but even that sounds steep. We'll see.


While we're on the subject of God-Games, not much more than a month after launch the rumblings of discontent over TESO seem to be growing. Keen, Werit and J3w3l all have concerns about end-game, progression and grind, though they don't necessarily all agree on where the problem lies. The whole new content locked through Veteran Levels progression model looks extremely hardcore to me and quite out of keeping with what little I understand about the Elder Scrolls IP, one of the main attractions of which, I thought, was supposed to be freedom of action. Going to be an interesting one to watch from the outside.


And finally there's the WildStar open beta, all ten days of it, starting tomorrow. Tobold, one of the few bloggers I can think of who's announced a firm intention to play the Space Cowboy game, recommends getting at least to level 10, after which the game apparently opens out. It would certainly need to, given the extreme linearity of what started to seem to me like a never-ending tutorial.

Eliot at Massively had an interesting opinion piece from the perspective of a long-time beta player. His summation? "...the game has lasted just long enough in intensive development that it came down with a strong case of "follow the leader" rather than stuck with some of the game's original and more heady concepts". In other words it was better in beta.

Ah, but isn't that always the way? Maybe I'd better not skip on that ArcheAge founder's pack after all.
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