Archive for December, 2011

Deathwing is Dead. For Sure.

Time for something a little different. It’s been a hard time for me in RL so I thought I’d do something a bit goofy to cheer myself up. Inspired by an offhand comment by my guildie Vuuk of the Mana Cake Musings blog, I give you my first webcomic:-

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Of Old Republics and What I Think of Them

Zelcandor, Jedi Knight, ready to kick ass and take names. Not necessarily in that order.

Immersive. Meaningful choices. Subtlety.

That’s the 3 things I took away from my beta experience with Star Wars: The Old Republic beta weekends. I’m going to talk broadly about my experiences with the game and I’m also going to talk about it from the POV of a WoW veteran, so forgive me for not calling the factions ‘Alliance’ and ‘Horde’ as I cba to think any other way just yet. 😛

Game installation was smooth and there was a lot to like – the production values are insanely high. Graphics are amazing, a really good balance between realistic and cartoony, kind of like what I think WoW2 would like if Blizzard wanted to make the game look more ‘modern.’ The art design does an excellent job of making the world have that Star Wars feel but it’s really the audio that’s the star of the show.

Every single NPC in the game has a voice. You pick up a quest, the NPC narrates it to you. You go talk to vendor, they have a voice. You talk to a random NPC, they have a voice. And this is what’s amazing, the voice acting is just beyond anything I’ve ever seen in a game. I never met a single NPC with bad voice acting – and I can’t emphasise this enough, it’s not just the actors, the dialogue is just amazing, informative and subtly nuanced with emotion and inflection. Every single NPC feels like a real and distinct character.

What I really loved about the voice acting though was that if you play Alliance, all the voices are American and if you play Horde, all the voice actors are British – because we all know the British make the best villains! 😀 Seriously though, I think it’s a genius move. Years of Hollywood conditioning pays off dividends. Alliance characters feel like all-American heroes and Horde characters feel suitably sinister and evil.

And again, the subtlety is great – the Sith have a broad spectrum of British accents, from the plummy clarity of the Sith ruling classes to the thuggish East London glottal quality of the rank and file Sith.

Combat feels fast and smooth – I played a warrior on both Alliance and Horde side and the classes are identical, except that all the attacks have different names, depending on faction (e.g. Alliance warriors have Charge, while Horde warriors have um, Slammy Run or whatever (yeah, I just called it ‘charge’ in my head and paid no attention the silly non-WoW naming of SWTOR). Bioware have rather sensibly just done a straight rip off of the WoW controls – hitting ‘B’ opens your bags, ‘C’ brings up your character window, ‘X’ makes you sit, ‘Z’ makes you sheathe and unsheathe weapons etc. The transition from WoW to SWTOR is seamless, you can just pick up the game and treat it like WoW with a different coat of paint.

This was something that annoyed me with Rift – I’m all for another company making a WoW clone with better graphics and new innovations but dammit, couldn’t Trion have just given us the same damn controls as WoW, rather than change everything around and make it unintuitive?! I don’t want to spend half an hour re-mapping all the key bindings to how they are in WoW simply because the keybindings for the same damn controls are unintuitive -e.g. to open your bags, you had to hit ‘I’ instead of ‘B.’ Why? ‘I’ is for ‘Inventory.’ Seriously, I just found it annoying as hell.

By the by, enemy nameplates are off by default – there’s no keyboard shortcut for enabling them, you have to do this manually via hitting ESC and going to the Interface options. I highly recommend you do this before you start playing – It’s very hard to spot enemy mobs sometimes as they just seem to blend into the environment. Many a time I just blindly walked into a whole pack of Flesh Raiders simply because I didn’t spot the extra three sleeping in a corner. Having nameplates enabled fixes this problem.

Questing is fun but it’s just the same as WoW. Kill stuff, collect stuff, escort stuff. The collect stuff is annoying as many objects are near invisible in the environment but once you get used to it, it’s fine. If you enjoyed the questing grind in WoW, you’ll enjoy it in SWTOR. Additionally, each class has a story that you play through with phased zones and class specific quests. This is actually pretty involving and immersive. You’ll want to keep playing to see where your character ends up by the end of his journey.

And questing is full of those meaningful choices I mentioned earlier. Every time you’re given a quest, the quest giver actually interacts with you – he tells you the quest details and you can ask them more questions about what you’re doing or give your opinion on the quest – you know, actually have a conversation with the NPC. This is where the game truly shined for me – whenever you talk with NPCs, you get a choice of what to respond. It truly makes your toon feel like a real character because no matter your faction, you can choose to be a good guy or a bad guy based solely on your responses.

I’ll bring up an example from WoW that I kept thinking of. Back in WotLK, while leveling through Borean Tundra, you get a quest where you have to torture a prisoner. You have no choice on the matter, you just click through the dialogue and you must carry out the torture in order to complete the quest. I found this to be very disturbing when I was first faced with it – Zelcandor just wouldn’t do that. He’d refuse to take part in torturing a prisoner because it’s simply unethical. It broke my immersion in the game and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

In SWTOR, if there were a similar quest, you’d get a choice – torture the prisoner or refuse. Heck, you’d probably get the following choices:-

  • I’ll do what I need to. Hand me the hot irons.
  • If we need information, there’s another way we can get it.
  • I refuse to do this, it’s unethical and unnecessary.

And the choices would all have excellent, passionate voice acting to go with it – if you chose Option 3 (like I would), your character would passionately proclaim:-

“No. I will not torture this prisoner, it’s unethical and wrong. You call yourselves soldiers of the Alliance? You should be ashamed of yourselves. We’re better than this, dammit!”

You’ll also be rewarded for choosing certain options over others. If you choose option 1, you’d accrue some Dark Side points. If you choose Option 3, you’ll accrue Light Side points. These points affect your story and, over time, open access to special items and other perks. It’s really great!

I had a blast with the beta but something one of my guildies said about it struck me as very true: it feels like an amazing single player experience with multiplayer stuff bolted on. You’ll spend a lot of time playing through your class, get it to max level and you can do so without interacting with anyone around you. Player interaction feels a little clumsy so far and I’d like to see how that pans out on live. I think that one of the other things that we’ll see a lot of in the game is people maxing out a toon of every class, on both factions, just to experience the stories of all the classes. The game could really use a RealID style feature to let friends talk cross-faction.

Another complaint is that the interface is very clunky. I really hope that Bioware will either patch in more UI customisation or allow the use of AddOns. I have an heavily customised UI for WoW and I changed things around to match that UI when I played Rift.

Finally, the best thing about it… the attitude towards WoW from the SWTOR community. I’ve tried out a few other MMOs – Conan, LOTRO, Aion, Rift, DCUO – and one thing that’s driven me away from those games is just the relentless and utterly venomous slamming of WoW in general/trade channels 24/7. It’s like people have got nothing better to do than fill those channels with ‘wow sux’ chat and people asking for help just don’t get any replies. It really brings me down, y’know?

When I started playing WoW, the general chat was a great place to get help and advice on quests and game mechanics, though it was still full of trolls and idiots. These days, the advice to troll ratio is heavily on the troll side.

SWTOR is refreshingly free of that.

Now, granted, I’ve only played the beta so far but I found very little talk about WoW or well, if there was, it wasn’t negative. Sure, people said they no longer enjoyed WoW for whatever reason but it was reasonable chat and nothing that brought me down. People were helpful and informative when help was asked for, no-one called anyone a retard or noob and there was a real feeling of friendliness and openness. That’s what really sold the game for me.

I’m very tempted to get this game after my beta experience. I know the game will be successful based upon the brand and developer. However, as with all MMOs, it’s all about the endgame for me. I hope that SWTOR can provide a compelling, challenging and fun raiding experience. I hope that content comes regularly and is well developed and fun.

But most of all, I hope it is full of fun innovations that push Blizzard to do better, and make WoW even better than it currently is!

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Dragon Soul: Night One

Morchok, the first boss of Dragon Soul, playfully explains his feelings about how raids will find him

ZELCANDOR: Really?!

MAGE: Really?!

HUNTER: Really?!

PALADIN: Really?!

A collective expression of surprise from half our raid team after killing Morchok, the first boss of Dragon Soul. Little did we know, this wasn’t going to be first time this happened all night.

While we weren’t really burned out on Firelands, we were ready for a change of scenery after farming Tier 12 for so long. We’d all prepared for the bosses. Some of us had been on the PTR and killed the bosses via the LFR. Some of us had read up on various sites and blogs about tips and tricks. All of us had watched the videos. We. Were. Ready.

However, as had happened in the last few weeks, we had some issues. Not all of our players were available and due to some connection issues, one of our healers couldn’t log on at all.

So there, we were, 9 manning it with 1 healer short while one of our Holy Paladins rushed home to step in. No worries, not the first time we’d done it. The Morchok trash went down fast enough and soon enough, we were there in front of the boss. Morchok had seemed so easy in all the raid videos we’d seen and some of us had even killed him using the LFR tool. But I had figured, there was something different about the fight on Normal Mode. This is the last raid of this expansion, there’s got to be something raid wipey here – the boss must hit insanely hard, or raid damage must be so high that we’ll probably wipe a few times before we get it down.

3 minutes later:

ZELCANDOR: Really?!

MAGE: Really?!

HUNTER: Really?!

PALADIN: Really?!

And so began the first night of raiding in Dragon Soul. Morchok and Yor’sahj were one-shotted. The mechanics were ridiculously straightforward and something any experienced raider wouldn’t have any trouble with.

We wiped a few times on Zon’ozz but not because the boss was hard, just through regular learning of the fight as we figured out how many stacks we could push and what the best positioning was. There was also one nubwipe because our dumbass tank * because he’s too used to turning the boss away from the raid on the pull – the Void spawned far away from the raid and hit the wall, bam, raid wipe.

By the time we got to Hagara, we had started to relax and lose our ‘edge’ – that frame of mind you need for progression raiding as we had stopped taking the instance seriously. We had one wipe due to learning the speed we needed to move in the ice phase and me forgetting to run out of Hagara’s Focused Assault while healers were Ice Tombed. After that, we brought her down, somewhat messily but clean enough for a first kill.

And by that point, I kinda lost heart.

2 of the 3 hours we’d allotted to raiding had passed and we’d pretty much face-rolled 4 bosses. We still had time for Ultraxion and beyond (though I’ll cover that later). I look back at the fights and apart from Hagara, I can’t say that they were messy kills or that people didn’t quite know what they were doing, which is par for the course while you learn a fight.

We smoothly killed Morchok because it’s a simple fight, with very little raid damage, predictable damage on tanks and a second phase where damage is completely and easily avoidable. The fight does not feel like it belongs in a raid, it feels like something that should be found in a 5 man.

Yor’sahj has an interesting and fun mechanic but it’s a little undertuned. The slime adds could do with more HP, raid damage could be a little higher than it was. Having said that, a lot of this is about what combination of slimes you get and we never really had a ‘nasty’ combination.

Warlord Zon’ozz has a good central gimmick and it does take a little bit of getting used to but again, there’s not much more to the fight than figuring out how many stacks you can take and working out how best to position yourselves.

And Hagara… man, what a waste. It’s a good fight! But so completely undertuned! I really figured we’d spend time wiping on this due to the high damage of Phase 1, learning the dance of Phase 2, having tank deaths due to Focused Assault but… none of that. Damage was trivial. The Focused Assault thing… all I had to do was watch the DBM timer and run out a couple of seconds before she cast it. I don’t know if  it’s a bug or intended but I figured out that if you run out a couple of seconds early, she’ll cast Focused Assault and then immediately cancel the cast. A major attack and source of tank damage just never went off just because I can watch a timer.

After we killed Morchok I felt something I hadn’t felt for a long time. I don’t know how to describe the feeling but back in WotLK, after we killed Lord Marrowgar for the first time, I had this feeling, like I knew I was going to utterly hate every fight in that place.

The feeling disturbed me and it disturbs me still. The thing is, I really hated Icecrown Citadel. Even to this day, when we go back there to do achievements or finish up, feelings of hatred, rage and frustration well up within me.

I hate that shithole.

Having said all that, that feeling of dread dissipated as we got to Ultraxion and we started learning the fight. Ultraxion’s a great fight, high DPS requirements, full focus and attention needed with some fun mechanics. Really enjoyed the fight and I look forward to doing it again next reset.

But that feeling… I’m afraid of spending another chunk of my life raiding an instance I despise. Two days later and I can take a step back and I realize that while I did find these fights easy, I didn’t actually hate them… they just didn’t do anything for me. And flying around Wyrmrest Temple, being on a gunship… all these things just remind me of WotLK, an expansion I’m totally done with. Dragon Soul feels like a Wrath raid. It lacks the depth of design and difficulty that I enjoyed in Tier 11 and 12 in normal mode. There was no sense of challenge or accomplishment with those first few kills. I felt nothing. I can only hope that the Heroic Modes are tuned better and are even more fun.

We didn’t down Ultraxion that night, mainly due to UI issues from one of our healers but we did get our kill the next night, as well as Blackhorn. I’ll cover them in another post.

* That tank was me, in case there’s any doubt 😛

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