My First Guild Wars 2 Dungeon

My first dungeon in Guild Wars 2 was quite an experience.  My guild (which is small, we are spread across several games and people are rather attached to their individual games) decided we wanted to run the first one – Ascalon Catacombs.  There were only 4 of us available at the time, but we figured why not and gave it a run anyway.

So it was, that a Mesmer, Elementalist, Necromancer and Ranger set off on their first dungeon adventure together.  I’m not really sure what I expected–I knew from just watching the blogosphere that things were hard in the dungeons and that there really wasn’t any hand-holding.  Yeah, that was pretty accurate.  But man was it fun.

When we first zoned in and took down one mob, and we were like “Wow, that was just … one.”  The next pull we tried two mobs … and wiped.  Rezzed, and wiped again.  Third time was the charm and we finally made it by.  It was really fun in an infuriating kind of way because we had to play the game differently than what we were expecting.  The removal of the holy trinity was really more of a challenge than we were expecting.  There are so many enemy abilities that require moving, or dodging/rolling, and dying.  Dying happened a lot.

With just the 4 of us, we actually had quite a bit of issue with pulls of three.  Two we could handle most of the time (though some class combinations causes us more angst than others).  The boss fights were fun and also challenging (I’m looking at you, Lovers!). And we died … a lot.  As for trash mobs, there actually weren’t that many, but each pull felt challenging.  It was nearly impossible for us to get single pulls most of the time after the first fight, and so focused fire was particularly important because if we all chose different targets, we all died.

I personally really enjoyed that straight DPS wasn’t that important.  It was just as important to move around, help your teammates rally when they went down, and even STOP dps’ing if you were low on life and you needed to stay up — let someone else take aggro.  Each player alternately filled all the roles of the holy trinity.

Quick Thoughts: Anarchy Nostalgia

It’s really great to think that even after so many years — over a decade–some MMOs are still going and actively being played.  My first MMO love was Funcom’s Anarchy Online and this year it celebrated its 11th birthday.  Wow, that is staggering to me. Not only because the game is so old, but that means I’ve been actively playing an MMO for about 9 years.  And AO was the beast that started it all.

I wasn’t around for the fabled horrendous launch period, but I’ve heard stories.  Oh man, have I heard stories. When I started playing the game was …astounding.  I played a Metaphysicist (moochies anyone?), an Adventurer and a Doctor.  But the MP was my favorite — I remember how geeked I was when I summoned my first demon instead of a meatball.  It was so … invigorating.  I can remember sitting in my dorm room grinding hecks for hours and hours, or using NanoNanny to plan out my implants–flying all over the world to play-cities to buy things from the market–when I got my first yalm.

Sure it’s not the best game on the market.  But it’s still a good game.  It was fun, complex, unforgiving (respeccing, what?!).  It had player housing, guild housing, a huge world that would take days and days to run across.  I met some great people in game, and I still keep in touch with.

Those memories are vivid to me…just as vivid to me as stuff that happened in real life.  In the current MMO market, games seem to be dropping like flies.  Huge inflated budgets in games lead to completely unrealistic subscriber predictions–which is just poor planning.  Games downsizing, closing, running on skeleton crews so soon launch is the norm nowadays.  Yet AO is still kicking–maybe not going strong as it once was, but slow and steady, stable … dependable.

Sure, it wasn’t the first MMO, but it was my first MMO.  And you always remember your first with rose-colored glasses.

SURPRISE! GameStop wants to sell Used Digital Games

Wait…who’s surprised?  Definitely not me.  In the grand scheme, it’s not overly unexpected.  In our industry’s  little survival of the fittest battle, the publishers try to kill off the used game business, and the used game business finds new in-roads to stay alive.  I think there this gets really interesting is how this will effect the idea of ownership of digital properties.  Right now, games are all sold as “licenses” to the software — meaning that you don’t actually own the software, you just purchased a license to use that software.  Sometimes, that involves a physical medium, other times it doesn’t.

Big Publishers are likely to push against this and say that the license is non-transferrable (meaning it can’t be sold).  The counter claim to that will likely be the Doctrine of First Sale, which basically says that the publisher only has control over the first sale of the product, and not any subsequent sales of the product.  Again, the publishers are currently holding the stance that because they are only licensing the software, it doesn’t qualify for First Sale Doctrine.

When this battle comes up in the courts, I’ll be really excited because this has larger repercussions outside of gaming, specifically in cracking the lock on content to certain platforms (like those tied to the iTunes store, or the Zune store, or Amazon). Anyway, the article doesn’t say much other than GameStop mentioned exploring the possibilities, which again … surprises no one.

Via: GameStop Wants to Sell Used Digital Games – The Escapist 

WoW Continues to Bleed Subscribers

As reported by Massively, World of Warcraft is down to a Whopping 9.1 million subscribers, about a million lower than a quarter ago in May.  This has to be making big-cat Activision-Blizzard anxious, despite the admittedly positive tone of the report.  Between Diablo III’s impressive launch (for both positive and negative reasons), and Mists of Pandaria’s impending launch, the company is lined up for a strong quarter.  

My concern is the staying power of WoW.  The responses I’ve heard in the blogosphere, even the fansites, has been decidedly “Meh.”  about the next expansion.  I don’t think this has anything to do with the topic of the expansion (pandas — loosely tied to lore), I think it has more to do with Blizzard painting itself into a proverbial corner with their game-design and a few other reasons I covered previously.  That, combined with the fact that the first round of Annual Pass subscribers is coming up real quick (and I know of at least 2 people who will be cancelling when that hits.)  I have to wonder what their numbers will look like come November.  

Regardless, Ghostcrawler and company might be showing their age a little bit.  

Via: World of Warcraft has 9.1 million subscribers, down by a million since May on Massively 

The Diminishing of World of Warcraft

This post has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite a while now.  I want to start by saying that World of Warcraft is not now, nor has it ever been a bad game.  In fact, it’s one of the best games ever made and it’s ongoing influence in the MMO space cannot be discounted.  The WoW-model of design for MMOs is still very much in effect today as it was when WoW was first launched.  However, I think that WoW as it is has been diminished from what it was.  The game is still epic, but it’s just not “as epic” as it was.

So let me start by talking about my history in the game.  I started to play World of Warcraft right before the launch of The Burning Crusade.  I played, stereotypically, a hunter–that I only got to level 20–keeping in mind that at that point, level 20 was a decent portion into the game.  When TBC came out, I rolled a Blood Elf Rogue, and that’s been my main ever since.  I loved the rogue class (coming from a Ranger in Neverwinter Nights), and I really enjoyed being a stabby character.  I feel in love with the lore of the Blood Elves, so much that I have the Blood Elf crest tattooed on my side (easily, the most painful place).

Even still, I played the game off and on for months.  I didn’t have a guild so playing the game was always a little bit … well, boring.  I did a few server transfers and landed on a server and found a guild towards the end of TBC that I stayed with all through Cataclysm.  For me, Wrath of the Lich King was my WoW hayday.  Not because of gameplay changes, but because of the guild that I played with was a ton of fun, we got along great.  We weren’t even close to the best guild in game, but we had fun and that was all that mattered.

Towards the end of Wrath, the guild exploded, splintering off in different directions.  I continued to play regularly again more of a “free agent” than an actual guild member, but without access to raids to get gear, I was repeatedly kicked from PUGs in the dungeon finder for not having enough DPS (even though I needed gear from the dungeon).  This wasn’t just a once or twice thing, but when I would try to play, in a run of 4-5 heroics, I would be kicked from 3-4 for being ungeared and they didn’t want to “carry” anyone.  Its not that I didn’t know how to play my class — I did.  I was always effective as a rogue.  Most of the time I was kicked based entirely on GearScore–nothing else.

Eventually, after meeting my partner and having a few WoW dates, we both eventually moved away from WoW and onto other games, but we keep active subscriptions, and keep coming back.  And finding it disappointing again, and moving on again.  This brings me to what I consider to be the diminishing of WoW: the inclusion of GearScore into the game proper, and allowing faction transfers.

I think that GearScore is likely the worst thing to happen to a game.  It attempts boil a player down to a discrete number, which when correlated to other numbers such as DPS, comes up with entirely new ways of discrimination. The actual skill of the player is irrelevant — the only thing that matters is your GearScore.  To a lesser degree, if your GearScore is appropriate but you aren’t hitting some arbitrary number that someone has decided you should be at in DPS, HPS, etc, you are judged by that too.

Now, if this were just the realm of the elite, it wouldn’t be a problem for me.  It should only apply to those who are trying to clear the highest, toughest tier of content, the min-maxers.  But it doesn’t.  Players in WoW apply this to every aspect of gameplay now.  Something as simple as running dungeons can now be denied to me if I don’t have what some consider to be appropriate gear.  Even if the gear I need to get better is in that dungeon.  Worse, Blizzard actually incorporated this singular number as their gating mechanism.  There’s something fundamentally wrong with making the summation of a player a single number, which intended or not determines whether someone can play the game.

The second is faction transfers.  The inspiration for this one came when I was recently at an amusement park and saw someone with a Horde tattoo.  I’m a stalwart Horde player (hence the belf tattoo).  So naturally I got excited and pointed it out to my partner who replied with, “Like that matters anymore … no one cares about Horde or Alliance anymore.”  Allowing faction transfers for existing characters I think undermined a fundamental core mechanic of the game, which has always been about the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance.  In the MMO space, it’s a fairly unique dynamic. When you think, there are still not many games that build this faction conflict into the story quite like WoW.

I was (and still am, even if it’s a meaningless distinction now) part of the Horde.  I was vested in the Horde and really enjoyed playing in it.  I had never rolled an alliance character above level 5.  I never wanted to play Alliance, I disliked Alliance.  But once faction change went live, and my guild imploded, I did what I thought I would never do — I faction changed to Alliance to play with other friends.  I learned my way around Stormwind.  I tried to play for a while, my Worgen Rogue scampering about.  But for me, it just wasn’t the same.  A few months later I transferred back to my blood elf rogue.

But I think the damage was already done.  My choice to choose Alliance or Horde was already meaningless.    By being able to move back and forth between factions with no repercussions at all (outside of my wallet…I don’t consider those “game” repercussions), I made my choice to pick a faction utterly void.  It didn’t matter anymore.  It still doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, I think that this is the greatest diminishing of WoW — the game has become one meaningless choice after another.  If I don’t like a choice, I pay money–things change.  My spec is meaningless now.  I lack any real choice in anything that matters — I have choices of utility left in the game, but even those are meaningless.  I have no consequences in game for re-speccing, faction changing–anything.  A choice without consequences is at it’s heart, not a choice.  A choice must have consequences or it’s utterly meaningless.

While this happens all the time in WoW, for me the faction change is the choice that diminished the game the most for me.  My choice to be Horde is meaningless because there are no repercussions to changing to Alliance.  I think in a larger sense, the lack of consequences for my choices is what has made WoW less than what it was.

Like I said, I don’t think WoW is a bad game, or that it’s dying.  I don’t think any of those things, but I do think it’s been diminished from what it was through the implementation and tacit acceptance of GearScore and the gradual removal of all consequences for any choice you make in the game.  Literally, nothing in the game at this point has any consequences anymore.  And a game without meaningful, consequential choices isn’t much of a game for me.

Pokemon Conquest – Initial Thoughts

So I picked up Pokemon Conquest on Friday (since I actually managed to find it.)  I had stopped 4-5 other places throughout the week without success to pick it up (along with Theatrhythm, but thats for another day).   Anyway, I started playing the game and I’m probably 3-4 hours in–it’s actually pretty fun, though a little bit shallow at this point in the game — I’m not sure if the gameplay will deepen a bit more as time goes on.

From a pokemon perspective, it’s very much like pokemon lite — not all 600+ pokemon are in the game, instead only a subset of 100 or so.  As you battle other warriors and warlords and wild pokemon, you add their pokemon to your “Gallery,” which is loosely synonymous with the pokedex.

As far as strategy goes, it’s pretty standard far with how pokemon games with the pokemon types being more/less effective against other types.  In the beginning of the game at least, Pokemon Conquest goes out its way to make this easy for you to see.  The first couple kingdoms you conquer all play into this strategy to help drive the point home.

Overall, thus far into the game — it’s pretty fun. At this point, it’s not horribly complicated and the strategy at this point isn’t all that deep, but at only 4 hours in, that could easily change down the line.  At the very least, it’s a good addition to the Pokemon Universe.

Reviewed: Pokemon Conquest

New Rift Lore!

Massively snagged what looks like an exclusive story from Trion on all the new lore for Rift’s upcoming expansion, Storm Legion.  I don’t want to steal their thunder, so if you haven’t already seen what they have to offer, but sure to hit it up ASAP, especially if you are a Rift fan. Right now, Rift is the only game that gets my $15 a month (though Funcom got the $200 for a Lifetime Sub), so I’m really excited about this expansion.

Also – player housing.  For real.  Player.  Housing.  I can’t wait.  I’ve missed player housing since Anarchy Online.

Via: RIFT exclusive: Storm Legion lore bonanza at Massively

SWTOR Sweeps GDC Online Game Nominations – Really?

Uh, what?  Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic nets a total 6 nominations for the GDA Choice Online Awards, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say, “Come Again?”  Not that the game was bad – I played it for a month before I got bored.  It was polished, pretty, and utterly run of the mill.  Outside of some slight differences in class structure and crafting, the game was stunningly underwhelming.  Still, it received nominations for Innovation, Audio, Game Design, Visual Arts, Technology, and Best New Online Game.

So …. yeah, I’m curious how a game that was pretty universally regarded as “good, but nothing special…” and from which a large number of gamers flocked to, then away from got nominated for so many awards.  Again, not that the game was bad by any stretch, but I know I personally, I was really unimpressed with the game.  So I’m really surprised and I’m not gonna lie, a little bit skeptical about these nominations.

Via: SWTOR dominates GDC Online Awards nominations @ Massively