Category Archives: MMO

Baby’s First Compromised Account

After… oh, let’s see… roughly 30-ish years of playing online games, I unfortunately got to check off an item that was never on my bucket list: one of my accounts was compromised.

The offending account in question was my Cryptic / Perfect World Entertainment (PWE) although the attack was purely based in Neverwinter. I didn’t have anything in my Champions account and my Star Trek Online account was untouched.

I’ve been on break from Neverwinter for several months, only making a handful of logins just to invoke or set some crafting queues. No actual gameplay. But earlier last week I figured hey, I’m already one Module behind and the next one has already been announced, bringing with it the long-awaited Scourge Warlock class, so why not jump in and start catching up? I invoked, cleared up my crafting projects then started clicking around at the other icons to see what’s changed and what I was behind on. Clicked the mail icon and was greeted with:

Neverwinter: He Stole My AD!

On March 12, a common Thievery Kit was purchased for every single Astral Diamond I had. Say what? So I started clicking other stuff, the Astral Diamond Exchange most importantly. On the same date, all my Zen (not much remaining but still) was exchanged for Astral Diamonds, the pre-order bonus Astral Diamonds was loaded into the account then used to purchase this common item.

I checked my two lower level alts, then. Both were parked at a mailbox but neither of them had much AD or anything else to begin with. Only the Devoted Cleric, my main character, had any shinies and wealth.

So I went through the PWE Customer Support process. First off, obviously, setting a new and stronger password. Then the days-long back and forth of talking to CS reps about my ticket. At least I had screenshots and they had their login records which matched my story of activity.  Originally it sounded like they were going to implement a full character rollback but the final verdict was that it had been too long since the compromise and (my words) they didn’t have all the data to do a 3-month rollback. They did refund all my Zen and all my Astral Diamonds, though. I have no idea if anything is missing from my Vault though. Pretty sure most of the stuff I had was character- or account-locked so hopefully none of my pre-order goodies are gone.

At least the issue was resolved mostly to my satisfaction and I can begin playing Neverwinter at my leisure again.

A Second Look at Destiny’s First Look Alpha

Now that my Hunter has been level 8 (the cap for this weekend’s alpha test) for awhile, I’ve continued playing him to unlock more skills and get new weapons and more importantly, to slow down and smell the roses and really try to pay attention to the details.

I meant to write some of this in my first Destiny Alpha post but if you happened to notice the timestamp, I finished writing that just after 2am so I wasn’t exactly in top mental form.

So, now that I feel more comfortable speaking about the details of what’s available in Destiny so far, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Quality as a Shooter

As expected, this is from Bungie who put consoles on the map for first-person shooters back with Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, so Destiny is definitely top-quality when it comes to the overall feel and the tightness of the controls. In my previous post, I made a few comparisons to Defiance, and so did Belghast on his Manifest Destiny blog post this morning. I particularly like what he said here:

I feel like Defiance was an MMO with Shooter elements, whereas Destiny is a Shooter with MMO elements.

I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. Again, I’ll reiterate Bungie referring to Destiny as a “shared world shooter” rather than an MMO, and despite having a dance emote (!) it does lack chat and (possibly) the ability to trade between players. There is a mailbox but so far it’s only been for receiving stuff from Bungie so that’s up in the air until Beta next month. I’ve not found any type of Auction at all to buy from and sell to players.

I was very happy that Bungie broke from their Halo reload controls of using the right bumper (R1 on PlayStation, RB on Xbox) and switched to what has become the “standard” for console shooters, the Square or X button which is quicker to press and more intuitive than the bumper. My only real stumbling point was they bound melee to the R1 button (RB on Xbox) instead of clicking the right stick (R3 on PlayStation) but I quickly got used to it. The right stick (R3) is used to highlight a player so you can interact with them such as emotes or inviting them to a fireteam.

Aside from Square or X being reload (thank you), the other controls are pretty much standard. X (PS) or A (Xbox) will jump, Square or X is also the Interact function to get a mission, gather a resource, etc. Circle or B will switch from standing to prone. There is no crouch. Triangle or Y will switch weapons from Primary to Secondary, and holding it (long press) will bring up your Heavy weapon. Clicking the left stick (L3) will sprint, and pressing B while sprinting will do a short slide. L1 or LB throws a grenade, which is a cooldown and does not rely on having a stock of grenades. Then R1 or RB is melee, as described previously.

In terms of overall performance, I feel like Destiny is chugging along at a fairly consistent 30fps. The Xbox One has been sadly underperforming in the first batch of cross-released games versus to the PlayStation 4 but Bungie says (thanks to the recent SDK that lets developers gain an extra 10% of power by removing Kinect from the equation) the Xbox One version will also run at 1080p and 30fps. 30fps is fine. It’s no Call of Duty at 60fps and that much is certainly noticeable but the recent Battlefields have also been 30fps and for bigger world games that works perfect. If the PS4 alpha build is dropping frames at all during busy times, it isn’t dropping more than 5fps for sure, but I do think it’s holding 30fps at all times.

The only feature that is truly lacking is a map. There is none whatsoever, not even a mini-radar map. Pressing the touchpad on the DualShock 4 toggles you in and out of “Nav Mode” which only shows you the location of nearby missions, or the next objective waypoint if you’ve already started a mission. Destiny is pretty big and currently there’s no way to get from A to B other than memorizing where everything is and how to get to and from the various locations.

PS4-specific, Destiny uses the DualShock 4′s lightbar. It’s normally white if your health is fully charged. If you take a beating and your health bar turns red on your UI, the light bar turns red as well. And if your Super ability is charged (Super Charged, get it?) the light bar turns yellow. Vita Remote Play works as well as can be expected. The closer to your PS4 the better, and there’s always a tiny bit of delay between the two since the data is being streamed to and from the Vita. It’s probably acceptable for general free roam PvE. I wouldn’t recommend it for a Strike (3 person) or Raid (6 person) PvE where the difficulty is ramped up and your team is depending on everyone. And there’s absolutely no way I’d use it for Crucible PvP where reaction time is everything.

Audio and Visuals

The music is very Halo-ish. I’ll just leave it at that. Sound effects are fantastic. Bungie is a AAA studio and Destiny has a AAA budget from Activision so there are no cheap beeps and boops here. Sound effect-wise my only gripe is that the sound for when your cooldowns refresh is the same sound as collecting an ammo pickup. I would prefer a unique sound so I know what happened without having to scan my UI. I’d already mentioned my disappointment in Peter Dinklage’s voice work for your Ghost AI, a sentiment I’ve seen shared quite a bit online. Other celebrities did some voice work as well, if you can pick them out. Nathan Fillion does the voice for Cayde-6, the Hunter Vanguard (ie. Class Vendor NPC) in the Tower. Fillion has done voice work in a few Halo games and it’s a shame he didn’t get used for something with more airtime than a Class Vendor. Out of all the voice work I’ve heard so far, Dinklage’s is still the most disappointing because it sounds “phoned in” and lacks any in-game character and personality. Shame, because he has a great voice with good annunciation and (to me) just the right level of baritone.

The Mass Effect is strong in that one!

Visually, Destiny is stunning. The art style, graphics and effects are all excellent and it’s great just to run around and see things. The class Super abilities are all very flashy and fun to watch with glorious particle effects. Even the skyboxes are some of the best I’ve ever seen. And the lighting! Oh, the lighting. I forget where I read this, I’m certain it was one of those Xbox One-inspired “is resolution really important?” type of articles but one of the tech-oriented developers said “next-gen won’t be about polygons, it will be about lighting.” Destiny has a full day/night cycle which is very well done. The first free roam zone has a dark red-lit tunnel and a large broken fan and sunlight streaming in from outside. Absolutely gorgeous. Some of the vistas are right up there with a Lord of the Rings Online in terms of “hey I just want to stop and look around, maybe snap a few screenshots.” When a Public Event happens, everything goes dark as the huge mothership momentarily eclipses the sun as it warps into the atmosphere. That’s a cool effect! As always I do have a gripe, but it’s just that some of the drops, especially gear drops can difficult to see on the ground. Everything glows but for some reason, perhaps it’s just the shape and size of the gear drop, it’s the one I have the most trouble spotting.

See? Pretty!

RPG Elements and Progression

There are three races in Destiny: Human, Awoken, and Exo. Awoken are blue aliens that resemble a mixture of elves and vampires while Exo are a cybernetic or robotic species, a sort of fast and athletic Terminator minus the organic skin. Once you’ve selected a race and gender, you choose one of the three classes: Hunter, Titan or Warlock. All three classes can use the same weapons, the real difference is their abilities and appearance. There is no MMO “trinity” at work in Destiny. The classes and their subclasses are to find a playstyle that fits you; no one class is “better” than another.

I mentioned in the first post a fear that at level cap (which appears to be 20) every subclass will have all the exact same skills. Thankfully, that is not the case. After unlocking upgrade abilities your XP later goes toward unlocking optional toggles. I think I saw two additional grenade ability types for the Gunslinger subclass of the Hunter, for example. You can only equip one at a time. Other abilities actually modify your attributes. One on the Hunter for example is called “Path Forbidden” and gives a bonus to the Recovery attribute but penalizes the Armor attribute as a tradeoff. This can allow each player to both customize their loadouts not only to accommodate their personal playstyle preference but also for specific encounters. So in that sense, I guess it’s somewhat analogous to how Guild Wars 2 handles skills: you have a smallish set of actives and passives but a larger pool to draw from and can swap them out on the fly.

There are three direct currencies in Destiny. The first is Glimmer, a blue crystal that would be the equivalent of “gold” in a fantasy MMO. Glimmer is acquired from killing enemies, completing missions or finding loot chests that spawn in random hidden spots in the world. Glimmer is universal to all your characters as well. Then there are Vanguard Marks and Crucible Marks which are obtained through completing Bounties and used to purchase Legendary equipment. Vanguard is a PvE reputation and Crucible is the PvP reputation. There is a third reputation, Crypo-Archeology which only applies to the Cryptarch NPC in the Tower. He will decode any Encrypted Engrams you collect from enemies, which in turn give reputation points. Buying engrams from him gives points as well. Ranking up lets you buy better engrams, just like ranking up in Vanguard or Crucible lets you buy better stuff.

There are also collectibles or what I will refer to as an “indirect currencies” which are used to upgrade your gear. In the first post I mentioned being able to gather Spinmetal Leaves but didn’t know what to do with it, assuming that a crafting system would come later. First, you can do something with it right now in the alpha: in the Tower there is a Crucible Quartermaster NPC who allows a Material Exchange. You can trade Spinmetal for Crucible Points. Each trade gives diminishing returns but that means if someone is willing to do that much farming, that he could level up the Crucible PvP reputation just by gathering resources in PvE. So far there are four gatherable materials listed but Spinmetal is the only one available in the alpha playable area. Secondly, the more advanced higher level armors requires multiple resources to upgrade in addition to Glimmer: one of the gatherable resources and a class resource. You don’t sell unwanted gear in Destiny, but you can dismantle it which will give a small amount of Glimmer and if the gear is better than white quality, you’ll get some class resource as well. Hunter armor dismantles into Sapphire Wire, for example. Dismantling weapons gives Glimmer and Weapon Parts which are used to upgrade weapons. Even the white quality weapons give Weapon Parts so I’ve been dismantling each one I collect then working on upgrading the green weapons.

Gear quality also has its own progression. White gear does nothing but green and better will eventually upgrade after enough use. For a weapon, you can upgrade its Attack rating, maybe get another boost then start unlocking different types of sights that could be useful in different encounter types. Armor upgrades might give a stat boost or some other perk such as faster reload. Elemental attacks are also featured in Destiny. You’ll start picking up guns with elemental attacks like Arc (electricity), Void, Fire and later on some enemies will be resistant to some elements and weak to others. So collecting weapon types and filling your Vault will be a thing come end-game.

With the level cap being so low in the alpha, it’s uncertain if there will be any type of level-scaling in Destiny. Last night I was in a fireteam with Scopique, who was level 6, and Scarybooster was level 4. I was level 8 with all green upgraded weapons and I was laying waste to everything before they had much of an opportunity to shoot so if there’s no type of level scaling, playing with friends might become an issue when the levels differences are vastly different. I think I’d approve of a Guild Wars 2 downscaling per area in Destiny.

Crucible PvP

So far the only PvP playlist in alpha is Conquest, a 6v6 matchup where teams try to capture and hold points on the map as well as kill the opposing team. Call of Duty’s Domination playlist would be a perfect analogy. There are two maps currently, one set on a moon and two types of vehicles are available: a speeder bike with guns (!) and a bigger slower hover bike-thing with a rocket launcher. Machine gun turrets are on the map in a couple spots. I’ve got a measly three matches under my belt so far, and… I’m undecided if it’s something I would stick with for the long-term progression. When I do play Call of Duty, Domination is my preferred playlist so Conquest should be right up my alley. Destiny plays slower than Call of Duty though, closer to a Battlefield feel perhaps. It’s a Bungie game so again, comparisons to Halo (in particular its Big Team Battle playlist) will be obvious. I normally loathed Halo multiplayer because it was primarily small teams and arena shooting, similar to the old Quake or Unreal Tournament games. Bungie unleashed Big Team Battle with Halo Reach and it proved popular so 343 Industries continued and improved on it in Halo 4. It’s the “best” (for my playstyle preferences) Halo multiplayer but even then, I can only play one or two matches before I’m ready to put it down. Destiny feels better than Halo to me, and that applies to the PvP here, but there’s still some as-of-yet intangible je ne sais quoi that causes me to quickly lose interest after a match or two.

One thing that is certainly putting me off is I think levels and gear matter in PvP. XP is shared so if you’re a 100% PvP player you can level up purely from PvP, all the while gaining Crucible reputation and marks to get the best gear in the game. I’m running around with the best PvE guns I can buy and have them upgraded but I go into PvP and get one shot, meanwhile it’s taking anywhere from 2-5 shots to kill an on-level opponent. Some of that is skill, as I’m more of an Xbox controller guy and still struggle a little bit with the DualShock 4 but the amount of one-shot deaths makes me suspicious that better gear makes or breaks the match.

Destiny First Look Alpha

Bungie surprised everyone (or at least myself and my teeny circle of gaming friends) with the sudden announcement of a First Look Alpha test this weekend for PS4 players. I was at work during the registration period but somehow late this afternoon I received an alpha key anyway from Bungie. Hey, whatever, I’ll take it!

I set my PS4 to download the client then ran out to dinner. By the time I got home, the game was ready to go. Character creation is a simple process. Select one of the three classes, that’s the major choice as it will determine your abilities. Then for appearance, choose from a dozen-ish faces, hairstyles, and so forth. You’re primarily just creating a face. Body size is not an option. The gear you equip determines the rest of your look in-game.

The First Look Alpha starts off at the upper end of level 3 and you’re already in a mission. You’ll encounter a few groups of Fallen on the way to the objectives, enough to level up and get introduced how to upgrade your skills, etc. Then mission complete, and off to The Tower you go. That’s a Social Area where your typical NPCs are located: vendors, mail, vault (bank), etc. Destiny is a first-person shooter, but in the social areas it switches to a third-person camera. Running around the Tower in particular brought to my mind a strong sense of Mass Effect due to its similarities: third-person, futuristic shooter RPG, running around a Citadel-like station and so forth.

Your first visit to the Tower a few NPCs have green icons over them attracting your attention. You get some new gear and your starter vehicles. A basic spaceship for traveling to and from the Tower and the various planets (only a segment of Earth is in the alpha) then a Sparrow speeder bike (yay, Star Wars influence for the win!) for travel on the ground maps. The loading screens to and from the tower show your ship, and if you’re in a fireteam, also the ships of your teammates in formation.

Now you return to Earth again, this time in the “real game” where you can run into other players doing missions, help them out, maybe team up, whatever. As I mentioned in my previous post, Bungie has been calling Destiny a “shared world shooter,” avoiding the term “MMO” as much as possible. One big thing I notice is that (at least in alpha) there is no chat whatsoever. Even Defiance, which was labeled as an “MMO shooter” had chat, broken though it was for many months. Over on PCs well of course every MMO has chat, that’s what keyboards are for, right? But Defiance on consoles have chat. DCUO on PS3 and PS4 have chat. I don’t know if Destiny has local voice or not though. I soloed a few levels then joined a PSN Party with some friends where we had two fireteams running missions. Bungie has said they wanted Destiny to be more an organic experience, where you can play as a single player game but see other players or you can assist or team with them seamlessly, so I guess having a chat window filled with LFG (or LFF since groups are called Fireteams in Destiny) spam like I see in DCUO.

The catch was that even though we were in the same zones, we couldn’t’ find each other. We wanted a full six-person fireteam but ended with with two three-person fireteams and the other team wasn’t even in our “world.” GameInformer had an interview with Bungie’s technical director last December where he called their matchmaking tech “mesh-based networking.” It sorta-kinda halfway seems similar-ish to the “megaserver” of Elder Scrolls Online. Some of us we were able to invite to a fireteam and we’d all load into the same world, others would get an error or some message and be unable to join us, so we went with two teams. But it was still aggravating that we weren’t even in the same space in-game to at least see each other even if we weren’t teamed. That’s something I hope gets some attention before launch. Being able to find, or at least see, friends needs to be convenient and easy and fast, especially on consoles. What the “mesh-based networking” does try to do well is make sure the players you see in your environment are all in your level bracket so I guess that’s nice that pretty much every player on your UI is a viable candidate to team with should you want to.

In free roam mode, far as I can tell you just run around picking up missions from flashing green beacons such as the one pictured above. Unlike an MMO where you do a quest, turn it in then that quest is gone, these missions seem to be immediately repeatable. You can intentionally, or accidentally as we did a couple times, grind these missions to your heart’s content apparently. Every so often a Public Event will occur. I’m inclined to compare it to an Arkfall from Defiance but that game doesn’t really give any fanfare that any type of event is occurring anywhere. I suppose Rift, Defiance’s forebear, would be more similar as I seem to recall getting some form of announcement on the UI when a rift was forming nearby? Anyway, the event in first zone is a Devil Walker, a big spider-like tank that players have to destroy. After trying this a couple times, I think I’m comfortable saying that it’s sorta-kinda like Defiance where the boss’ weaknesses are highlighted but it seemed to be much less obvious in Destiny. Then again, it may have been less obvious when I was new to Defiance also, I can’t remember now. For now anyway, these event bosses definitely have some challenge. The Walker’s legs can be damaged individually and there’s some way of making the “head” separate briefly exposing the core underneath but I haven’t figured out what triggers that yet.

Apparently the final game will have crafting? So far I’ve seen these “Spinmetal Leaves” which are collectible, and dismantling gear will give parts as well as the “Glimmer” currency. But whatever these resources are to be used for is either not in the alpha at all or simply cut off due to the low level 8 cap for the alpha. Either way, this type of collecting I enjoy much like in Skyrim. The plants don’t glow or have any type of effect to get your attention, they just look unique compared to the normal foliage so it’s a nice addition to add to the scenery where you just happen to be exploring or fighting the Fallen and hey there’s a resource to gather.

I’m told that armor dying unlocks at level 20, which obviously is not available in this weekends alpha test, but that will go a long way towards appearance customization.

I chose the Hunter class, and the alpha defaults to the Gunslinger subclass. I’m hoping the implication there is that there are multiple subclasses to choose from and each one has its own subset of skills and its own Super ability. The Hunter has a great jetpack-assisted double jump. I’m told the Titan and Warlock double jumps are less desirable, especially the Warlock. I haven’t tried those two classes yet though. But I did reach level 8 with the Hunter. I did learn that even though the level cap is 8, you continue earning XP and can continue unlocking skills. But at level 8 it seems like most of the gear that drops is for level 9-11 so I can’t equip any of it.

Reaching level 8 was accomplished in the Devil’s Lair “Strike” mission, which is Destiny’s term for an instanced “dungeon” mission. It was fairly challenging for the three of us, and I was glad we went to the Tower first so I could buy new gear. I hadn’t been to the Tower since level 4 so by the time I was ready for the Strike, I was in dire need of better guns. Plenty of very strong Fallen in there, and even though I don’t like shotguns in most games (and really not a fan of the amount of shotgun recoil in Destiny) I was happy I got a fire-based shotgun that took down most of those shielded Fallen in two or three shots. The final boss was another Devil Walker just like from the public event but there are also waves of Fallen that spawn on both sides and really make the whole thing challenging trying to get a good shot on the Walker weak spots while avoiding its deadly shots and also trying to cut down the number of Fallen shooting at you.

Seriously, how can you look at that shot and not think of Mass Effect?

RPG-wise, I’m not sure what to think yet. I’m not sure if using certain abilities (guns, melee, etc.) give bonus XP towards unlocking certain skills or if they just unlock at specific levels regardless? But my first impression is that there isn’t a “skill tree” setup per se and at end-game every single person playing a certain class will have the exact same skills unlocked. I have not played the Crucible PvP yet but I’ve read XP carries over from PvP to PvE. Does that mean “levels matter” in PvP? They most likely will in terms of unlocked skills. What about weapon levels and damage? I dunno. I’ll give PvP a shot (pun intended) later this weekend but I haven’t read overly favorable things about it so far. Mostly just “meh” comments.

I really like what I’ve seen so far other than a few minor issues, but it’s alpha right? I will say that the voice work leaves much to be desired. Especially when they’ve got actual award-winning actors in there doing the work. Peter Dinklage plays the voice of your AI “Ghost” but instead of sounding like he’s giving a voice and personality to a character named Ghost, it just sounds like a very bored and disinterested Peter Dinklage is reading lines off a script in the sound studio. Shame, really.

Justice League Volume 2: The Villain’s Journey

As I mentioned in the previous post about my new foray into comics, while I thought Volume 1 was underwhelming, I was willing to continue to see if things improved. So last week I read the graphic novel Justice League Volume 2: The Villain’s Journey. Oh, and before I get started, consider this whole thing a SPOILER ALERT!

image

Volume 2 picks up 5 years after Volume 1 ended. I suppose the intent there was to show that in Volume 1 these super heroes who were used to being on their own and protecting their respective cities (or space sector, in Green Lantern’s case) and were grudgingly forced to become a team, while 5 years later and in the “present” New 52 day, they’re considered an established team and well-respected by the peoples of Earth. Unfortunately, other than Batman and Superman being friends now, none of the other characters have grown closer, or even grown at all. It’s as if  Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman were stuffed into Doc Brown’s Delorean clown-car style, while Batman and Superman remained outside with the remote control, Bats laughingly telling Supes “when this sucker hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious bullshit!” and instantly reappeared 5 years into the future. (And boom! Another BTTF reference!)

Batman continues to be the punchline of Green Lantern’s jokes, some of which are actually funny, but still you’d think after working together for 5 years Lantern would see the Bat’s value as a tactician. Which brings me to some complaints I’ve read about Volume 2 — DC readers say the characterizations are off in Justice League compared to each hero’s solo adventures. As I’ve mentioned before, I never read DC and am only recently learning what the “New 52″ even means. What I don’t know is: are these New 52 series all happening at the same time? In the Batman solo series, writer Scott Snyder has him enduring the Court of Owls, being starved and psychologically broken as well as being hunted by their Talon assassin. Is this the same Batman who is simultaneously being poked fun at by Green Lantern for not having any powers? Or is Justice League in its own separate bubble? Because the writer for Justice League, DC’s CCO Geoff Johns, was also writing Green Lantern and Aquaman so if this is all supposed to be a cohesive universe, shouldn’t the characters act the same and their own story arcs carry over into their behavior and challenges as a team? Volume 2 also heavily features Steve Trevor who is now the liason between the government and the Justice League. Any romance between him and Wonder Woman had already been broken off by Diana, though Steve still pines after her. Neither is Superman dating Lois Lane. In fact, the end of Volume 2 begins a romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. In their solo books is that also the case or do they have their long-standing traditional romances? Then there’s Green Arrow. Mind you, I’m a huge fan of the show Arrow, which is partially why I bothered to read any DC comics at all. I haven’t read any Green Arrow comics yet because every time I pick one up in the shop, the art is so atrocious I can’t justify the purchase. So in Volume 2 there’s an issue where Green Arrow is basically stalking the Justice League trying to join. Quite literally begging to join. Way out of character, and just a weak excuse to have him show up, though Steve Trevor says he’s forming another team that Ollie might be a good fit for. I’m assuming that was Geoff John’s lame “origin” for having Green Arrow in Justice League America? I don’t know anything about JLA other than I’ve seen Green Arrow on the cover art a few times.

The title of Volume 2 is “The Villain’s Journey,” and that’s exactly what it is. The Hero’s Journey only in reverse. The end of Volume 1 had the heroes come together and form the Justice League and famous supernatural author David Graves wrote a book “Justice League: Gods Among Men” singing the praises of these superheroes after they foiled Darkseid’s attempt at conquering Earth.

Five years later, however, David Graves has lost his family to illness contracted on Apokalips, Darkseid’s world, and is terminally ill himself. He lashes out and blames these “gods” for being unable to save them, and used his research of the supernatural to visit the mystical Asura in Mount Sumeru that only the near-dead can see. They gave him great power which he uses to become a villain “Graves” who first visits each of the heroes’ enemies and tortures and kills them for to learn the heroes’ secrets. Even Steve Trevor is caught up in it, and brutally tortured for information about the Justice League and its Watchtower satellite. Graves wants to destroy the public’s faith in the Justice League, prove they are just flawed people like everyone else and not the “gods” he made them out to be.

I feel like in Batman, Scott Snyder eschewed the traditional villains to create the Court of Owls which was accomplished to great success. But this Graves villain Geoff Johns created, I dunno. He had a sob story trope that I didn’t buy as the reason for what he did. Nor did I particularly care about Graves. Most of the traditional villains in comics are still around decades later because the fans love them. I can’t imagine Graves coming back for more.

I did enjoy Volume 2 even though it seems like I’m trashing it here. It had its share of flaws, as I’ve pointed out, certainly. But all my jumping around trying to get back into comics two decades after I left the hobby, my tastes have changed and I have higher expectations out of the authors I read. I’ve had fantastic success in finding awesome new fiction authors for novels but comics? I keep hearing Scott Snyder, so I’m reading his Batman graphic novels (The Court of Owls series) and it’s enjoyable enough. I keep hearing Geoff Johns who is DC’s Chief Creative Officer for cryin’ out loud, but in both Justice League volumes I’ve complained of generic tropes and poor characterizations. Perhaps it’s a limitation of the medium. Just like critics refuse to consider video games as art, maybe comics can only do so much to tell a story. Maybe Snyder and Johns are great writes… “for a comic, anyway,” which is saying they wouldn’t cut it as a novelist. I don’t know. I am still searching for a series that I truly enjoy the characters, the stories, and the people creating them.

Marvel Legendary

Thanks to a few online friends, namely Hudson and Blue Kae, I’ve been trying out a few card games since last summer. I own four now — Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Lord of the Rings LCG, Android Netrunner LCG, and Marvel Legendary — but haven’t gotten a chance to really dig into the LCG games yet. I might write about them all someday, but for this morning’s post is about my newest game: Marvel Legendary by Upper Deck Games.

Legendary is labeled a “Deck Building Game,” which immediately made me think of so many prior CCGs like Magic: the Gathering, all the way up to Lord of the Rings LCG, etc. where the player has to spend time doing “meta” to build your own custom deck out of the cards you have, and of course buying new card packs along the way. To be perfectly honest, that aspect of the Lord of the Rings LCG (plus the complexity of the rules) has been the reason I haven’t played yet, and that assumption very nearly kept me away from Legendary. However, I am pleased to say that is completely not the case here! The only “meta” I can imagine anyone doing is deciding which Heroes might mix and match to hopefully create a winning deck against the Mastermind and his Scheme.

14 - 1

In Legendary, you pick 5 Heroes (3 if playing Solo) and you take all of each Hero’s cards to shuffle into the Hero deck. The above photo was my very first game, played solo, so I had all the cards from Hawkeye, Iron Man and Spider-man shuffled into the Hero deck. That makes it easy since you just grab every card from each Hero you’re playing.

When the game begins, you start with a player deck of 12 cards: 8 SHIELD agents (which have 1 Recruit point each) and 4 SHIELD troopers (which have 1 Attack point each), of which you draw 6 for your hand. Draw 5 cards off the Hero deck and put them into the HQ section of the board. From here, you can play the Agent cards to try to recruit Hero cards into your deck. However, a recruited Hero card does not go into your hand, it goes into your discard pile. At the end of each turn you discard your hand, then draw 6 more for your next hand. Once you’re out of cards to draw, you shuffle the discard deck and begin re-drawing. That’s where the Hero cards slowly start appearing into your hand, and turn after turn, your player deck begins building larger and larger. Deck Building Game! Easy, peasy!

Out of the group of card games I own so far, Legendary also has the easiest rules to learn. I played my 4th game last night (which ended up in a draw, took me awhile to notice the tactics I should have been using against that particular Scheme) and I didn’t need to touch the rule book at all. However, easy as it may be to learn the rules, it’s not necessarily an easy game to win. In my 4 games, all have been either draws or losses. The more cards you get in your hand, the more you have to kinda slow down and think about how you want to play each card, because some of the best cards have consequences so a little bit of “mental chess” is in order deciding how that card will play and what it will leave you afterward.

Legendary is primarily a cooperative game, however there is a little bit of competitive aspect in that at the end of the game, each player tallies up how many Victory Points he got during the game. So, it’s possible with certain cards to attempt to intentionally screw over your fellow players along the way. Deadpool, in particular, I’ve noticed is just as much of a screwup and a dick in the card game as he is in the comic — nearly all his cards have consequences which either screw over himself or one (or all) of the other players.

All in all, though, I’ve found Legendary to be a really fun game. Which is saying something considering I’ve only played solo so far. It’s fairly fast-paced, and as I said, the rules are pretty easy to catch onto. Good fun for a rainy day when you don’t want to be plugged into the internet!

McQuaid: Rise of the Fallen

[Preface: I try to be positive in my attitude in life and here on the blog. It is a personal failing of mine that when it comes to certain people -- Brad McQuaid being one of them -- I tend to become extremely cynical and sarcastic, so apologies.]

So. Brad McQuaid is back. Again. Guess what he wants to do? Kickstart yet another attempt at an EverQuest reboot. Broken record, much?

And the project name. Rise of the Fallen. Up of the Down. Front of the Back. Smile of the Frown. Cat of the Dog. Really? That the best a “Chief Creative Officer” has to offer?

I should probably go ahead and get it out in the open that if you hadn’t noticed from the previous paragraphs, I am not a fan of Mr. McQuaid. Why? Glad you asked. For starters, I’ve always seen him as sort of like Elvis. Not in the good way. He was just part of the whole EverQuest team but because he was out there in forums like Fires of Heaven back then, he became Internet Famous. And it went to his head. He started believing his own hype. Thought he was a Rock Star game developer. Arrogant. Smarmy. Drug abuse. Never learned from his mistakes.

Have a favorite actor? Author? Painter? Ever notice in random interviews that the best actors rarely, if ever, watch their own films or performances? The best authors read other authors’ works, they don’t re-read their own? Artists grow, branch out, push boundaries, forge new paths. Then you have people like, well, let’s say David Spade. Sure, he’s been in a number of movies and television series but let’s be honest, calling him an actor is pushing credulity to the limit. No matter what he’s in, he’s always just David Spade. That’s how I tend to view Brad McQuaid. I’ve yet to see any growth, any branching out, any creative development. Any semblance of artistry. I just perceive him as re-reading his own works and trying to replicate them.

Anyway, let’s talk about the project and its bullet points:

  • An MMO developed by gamers who aren’t afraid to target an audience of like-minded gamers

Much like Jaedia wrote, this immediately makes me think of McQuaid living in the past, posting in the FoH forums late at night, appealing to the same angry, bitter hardcore people. And sure, those same people will fork over some Kickstarter cash based solely on the vague promise of reliving their first MMO romance. They’re deluded, of course. Once the first few days of crowdfunding by those deluded adults who are now fifteen years older than they were in 1999 playing EverQuest dries up, as Wilhelm points out, the team – oh wait, McQuaid doesn’t really “do” teams, it’s his face in the public or nothing – will have to get out there and start the hype wagon. More to the point, however, if McQuaid believes his old-school design thoughts promote "social" interactions, are we sure the angry, bitter hardcore veterans are who we should be appealing to? In my experience, they tend to create horrible communities, after all.

  • A fantasy themed Massively Multiplayer Role Playing game (MMO) with a heavy focus on character development, an immersive world, and teamwork

This is the first time “immersive” comes up, and the thing with simply saying “immersive world” is that relates solely to “spatial presence” as I brought up a few years ago. Spatial presence is mostly in the hands of the artists and modelers. However, later down the page we find a commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics and a belief that an immersive world requires intelligent inhabitants so with those two, it’s sounding like they’re focusing on “flow” therefore encompassing both definitions of “immersion” in the technical sense. I’ll give them credit if that’s the case rather than simply parroting the “immersive” phrase because it’s a marketing mating call to MMO gamers. In particular I am hoping they can back up their claims on "intelligent inhabitants."

  • Group-focused social gameplay using a class based system to encourage teamwork
  • A commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics.
  • A commitment to creating a world where a focus on group play will attract those seeking a challenge.
  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared.

Four bullet points saying this game is all about group content. That’s all good and fine on paper. Anyone who’s ever MMO’d with me knows I absolutely love group content. But not everyone can play during prime time hours only, or play 18 hours per day in order to group. The days of 7 hour raids? I’ve done those. I don’t have time for that anymore, regardless how much I may have enjoyed the challenge at the time. And as much as Ye Olde EverQuest Geezers rail on and on about group this and group that, they’ve worn those rose-colored lenses so long they don’t even notice anymore. Plenty of people made a point of putting in the effort to be able to solo what they could as well. Which leads me to:

  • A mindset that Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds

It’s no secret that I’ve called bullshit on this for a decade now. In one of the more honest (finally, an EQ vet scrapes off some of the rose tinting) statements, Bhagpuss admits that EQ players were only social because there was nothing else to do.

We didn’t talk to each other and form social bonds because we were better people back then – we did it because the choice was that or sit in silence. The moment we got the opportunity to do something other than make small talk with strangers we jumped at the chance. Remember when they added Gems? You didn’t hear a word from anyone for weeks!

Also consider the time difference. It’s no longer 1999 where your choice of MMOs was essentially EverQuest or Ultima Online. Back then the video game industry was smaller than today. Getting your average gamer to fork over $15 per month? Squeezing blood from a turnip. My impression remains that the vast majority of early MMO adopters were tabletop RPG and/or MUD fanatics jumping at the first opportunity to take their adventures online with hundreds or thousands of others like-minded people. Today? Gaming is mainstream. MMO gaming is mainstream. Not only is there a different overall audience today than fifteen years ago, all of us have different lives, different demands on our time and different expectations out of our games and what we wish to accomplish in the time we allot to gaming. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not. Forced downtime in 2017? Perfect time for everyone to AFK Alt-Tab out to a browser, check Facebook or Google+, maybe check a YouTube or Twitch video, or whatever. We’re not going to sit around the old pixel campfire chatting about how great this new virtual world thing is. At most we’ll yammer about how World of Warcraft still sucks, refer to Pantheon as another "WoW clone" then fire off a few Chuck Norris jokes for good measure. It’s a different world. It’s a worse world in that regard, no doubt about it, but take an honest look at the waters of the Gamer Pool. It’s nasty. It just is. The majority of what passes for "social interaction" today is the malcontents taking up most of global chat to the point that the outnumbered "normals" you might desire to find have already disabled global chat and either stay solo or find a guild and limit themselves to guild chat.

How about Terminus, the world Pantheon is set on?

  • An open world in which you explore to obtain not only more powerful items but also new spells and abilities.
  • Travel where and when you want to in a non-linear world.
  • A huge world to explore, trade, and adventure in. Travel the world and profit from selling exotic items collected from distant realms.
  • Different cities and outposts may have local Bazaars

Despite the terms "open world" and "non-linear world" tempting me towards sandbox-ish curiosity, that is immediately quashed by reality. Obtaining more powerful items, spells and abilities are big cues to yet another typical vertical leveling game. And if that’s the case, well I can’t really travel "where and when" I might want to, no? Non-linear world? More likely meaning a non-linear leveling experience. No hand-holding quest lines pushing the player from quest hub to quest hub. Pick a zone in your level bracket and go kill monsters there. That last bullet point makes it sound like either there will be no global auction house (bazaar) or perhaps there will be one alongside local bazaar.

  • Limited and class based teleportation may get you close, but in order to reach many destinations you will have to traverse the planar scarred lands of Terminus through the use of your own two feet or on the back of your mighty steed.

In other words, just like Vanguard before it, Pantheon will promote no fast travel, limited teleporting and mostly rely on [insert heavy sarcasm] "meaningful" travel. Now wait! I’m all for huge worlds, and I enjoy exploring or just enjoying the scenery as much as the next screenshot-happy player. But when you have a "forced grouping" game, "forced manual travel" can easily impede the grouping part. I’ll refrain from re-quoting the entirety of my Vanguard "30 minutes traveling to my group" story here. Suffice to say that again, the players being initially pitched to are fifteen years older. We don’t have time to fart around for 30 minutes before the group content can even begin. I’m unconvinced that McQuaid has learned his lessons yet in this regard (and many others) and considering the realistic consequences of his design choices.

Remember when the BioWare guys very early on admitted that The Old Republic was only going to have crafting because it was an MMO bullet point? Take a look at Pantheon’s stretch goals. Crafting is down there at the 2.5 million mark. So the game is being designed without crafting. Meaning that if crafting gets tacked on later, it will be exactly that: tacked on. Now, honestly that isn’t a bad thing. Crafting is nothing but a gold- and time-sink in the majority of MMOs, namely the "theme park" variety. If Pantheon (or any MMO) is being designed around combat and gaining new loot as drops or rewards, then for my two cents: have the fortitude to stick to that design goal. Drop the crafting altogether and put those resources to better use. Besides, would a "legendary hero" (per the Game Summary of the Kickstarter page) really be sitting around smelting armor? No, he would not. If you’re appealing first to the old-school raiders, are those people today (or then) necessarily hard-core crafters? Just have an awareness that once the "mainstream" MMO crowd starts getting wind of the game, there will be some backlash by people who demand all the generic bullet points be filled regardless of their worth.

Ok, so we know the game is being developed strictly around combat. So lets look at what they say of combat, as it’s been one of the more provocative bullet points among some commenters on the blogs covering Pantheon:

Pantheon’s combat places a focus on preparation and awareness of your enemy. The player can actively dodge, block, counter or deflect incoming attacks. You’ll want to choose different spells and abilities before an important encounter, selecting from a mix of offensive and defensive abilities. You’ll also see where the NPC’s spells and abilities are going to land and have an opportunity to avoid the attack.

So-called "active combat" has been a feature of a lot of MMOs the past couple years, but they’ve all been different in nature. Guild Wars (we’ll consider it an MMO for purposes of this discussion) showed which skills the enemy was using along with its progress bar so if you had an interrupt skill you could choose to use it. The Old Republic uses a similar setup where you can at least see a progress bar indicating your target is executing a powerful ability, giving you an opportunity to interrupt. Guild Wars 2 of course relies on constant dodging to mitigate hits and damage. Nevewinter puts a red splotch on the ground covering an ability’s area of effect giving the player a few seconds to dodge, backstep, or otherwise get out of the target area. A modified "don’t stand in the poo," in other words, which is what the last sentence about combat describes above. Then of course there’s TERA where there’s very active dodging, blocking, backstepping plus paying attention to the "tells" any given monster type has prior to a strong attack. McQuaid hasn’t yet of yet expounded on what exactly they mean with their combat description, though I am tempted to say the mention of "pre-selection" of spells or abilities makes me think of Guild Wars 2 or Neverwinter where you can only have a small subset of your overall skillset equipped at any given time. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What does annoy me is blog commenters’ attitude. The hardcore types might go on and on about loving challenge and personal skill, then balk at actually needing any personal skill. Twitch? Really? TERA might come semi-close to being in the neighborhood of twitchy, at least for a tank, but really? Maybe I’m just reading into things but it sounds like "I’m getting older, my reflexes are slower" (oh sure, you’ll admit it under this bullet point but none of the others?) which can be reinterpreted as "games are for kids" which is complete crap. If you do a search for challenging (actually I did "challeng" as a catch-all) on the Kickstarter page you’ll get 9 results. They’re building a game where you need to be involved in the fights to overcome those challenges, not playing WoW with one hand while watching TV on the spare monitor.

  • An expectation that the path of least resistance should also be the most entertaining

Um, really? After all the talk about how "challenging" the game is, you’re saying the most entertaining way to play the game is to be lazy? Must be a typo. Because in challenging games, the entertainment is the path of most resistance.

  • An understanding that a truly challenging game is truly rewarding

Well, to be fair, overcoming the obstacles that a challenging game presents is truly rewarding. Simply having a challenging game exist is not. A game being challenging for the sake of being challenging is not. But being challenging and rewarding players for overcoming that challenge? Absolutely. Dark Souls anyone?

  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared

This would be true. After all, there are more MMO blogs than single-player blogs. The most rewarding content is MMOs is always group content, whether instanced or open world. Remember when open world group content existed? Yeah.

  • An awareness that content is king

That’s great to say and all, but the proof will be in the pudding. Plus, again, those stretch goals are holding content hostage. Content needs developers and developers need funding and salaries. McQuaid says additional funding will be needed beyond the initial $800K on this first Kickstarter anyway. Possibly from publishers or investors. Then even with a small(er) team leftover after launch, after the Three Monther Tourists leave for greener pastures, will the remaining subscribers be enough to fund actual content on a regular basis? (Which is another of the bullet points.)

  • Stretch Goal – New Feature: UGC Server

Bingo! Here’s my one sticking point about this whole project. It’s 2014. There are already hundreds of MMOs out there. More by 2017. You know what there aren’t hundreds of? Cooperative RPGs. Or if you’d like to scale it up, non-massively multiplayer RPGs. All the people who dreamed of "co-op Skyrim?" Or co-op "Dragon Age" or Witcher or whatever. Now McQuaid is suggesting "hey, we’ll let you run your own Pantheon server and ruleset with a UGC toolset?" If the entire project were based around this and this alone, drop the massively multiplayer baggage altogether, I wouldn’t be spending time writing this, I’d already have happily forked over my money to the project. There’s a tremendous demand for this and I suspect it would be an industry-shaking move if it’s successful, spawning copycats over the next few years to the delight of RPG fans everywhere. Plus, guess what? People bitch to high heaven about normal grouping in MMOs, never you mind so-called "forced grouping." Know where they never bitch about it? Co-op games. ’nuff said. Funding the game post-launch? Lease servers like Battlefield does, rather than releasing Linux server code for free. Sell new content as DLC expansions. Sell access to the UGC toolset because not everyone is going to want to be creators; most gamers are consumers of content.

In Summary

Ok, I’ve been highly critical of Brad McQuaid here. I don’t like that. I’m really hoping that his third time at bat he proves me wrong. At the very least, I think I did end up highlighting a few areas of the project that I thought were positives. What I do believe is that there is a place in the world for this project. I am skeptical that an MMO is the right direction, but it is what it is. I do hope the project gets funded and released then let the players enjoy and judge the final project. I also hope they’re able to remain independent the whole time to avoid any publisher pressure to release like what happened with Sony and Vanguard. But I also hope this doesn’t become, or remain, Brad McQuaid’s Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. He says Visionary Realms, Inc. currently has 10 season MMO veterans, and hopes to hire more with the Kickstarter funding. With all those veterans, I’d like to see the entire team brought to the fore as much as possible. Give everyone equal credit for the work they’re doing. Give others besides Brad some public face time, assuming there are some charismatic personalities among those MMO veterans, of course. I can understand from a marketing perspective why you’d want McQuaid’s name up there front and center at the time of announcement, tarnished though that name remains thanks to Vanguard, because it will immediately appeal to those rose-colored lenses-wearing former EverQuest addicts and their wallets. But after that, take down the whole "McQuaid Wall of Fame" portfolio and let the entire team shine.

Turbine: State of the Studio?

First, apologies if this post is incoherent. I was sick yesterday and today I’m still lightheaded with random cold- and hot-flashes.

I’d been intending to start blogging more this year. Sure, we’re only two weeks into the year but still.

Just a few thoughts on Turbine in general.

I haven’t played Dungeons & Dragons Online in a few years so I can’t speak to the truth of this, but general blogger gossip is that server population is once again dwindling and those who are left are the power-gamer types. Turbine just announced they are forming a Player Council similar to what they did for Lord of the Rings Online and what CCP did for EVE. Still, now that Neverwinter is out and by all appearances the most financially successful game in Perfect World Entertainment’s stable, I have to wonder how much longer Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast will extend the D&D license to Turbine?

A similar fate has always been hanging over Lord of the Rings Online’s head. Even back when the game launched in 2007, it was always known the license agreement was only until 2014. Which at the time was like “wow, that’s seven whole years” and in Internet Time / Videogame Time seven years may as well be seven decades. But here we are in 2014. When Kate Paiz published her Looking Ahead to 2014 letter last month, people started picking apart the bullet points in negative fashion, as per Internet norms. For the first time ever, Turbine is not busy at work on an Expansion? Uh oh! The license agreement must still be in limbo so they’re not dedicating a team to build an expensive expansion! Community Manager Sapience popped onto the forum a couple days ago to inform us that the license has been extended to 2017 so now they’ve pushed back the next ZOMG DOOM the sky is falling!!!1! panic for another three years.

Still, that’s no new content this year. I’m fine with delaying an expansion. If memory serves, Mines of Moria was 18 months-ish into the game’s life? That was a hefty expansion though, one the later expansions never quite matched in scope. Sure, Paiz’ letter says they plan on adding new zones and quests to the existing game this year, which is great, but I found it more distressing that no new instances were being planned. So whatever end-game is currently in place is the end-game for the rest of the year, and probably a good part of 2015 until they do ship some sort of expansion. Chances seem high that for at least half of the new 3-year license extension, nothing really new will be added to the game.

Turbine’s next game is Infinite Crisis, a MOBA based on DC Comics characters. I guess that’s one way to go? After all, Marvel Heroes covered the Diablo-style Action RPG genre, so DC can cover the MOBA genre, preventing any overlap. On the one hand, I do chuckle a bit when I hear “oh great, another MOBA? Like there aren’t enough of those already!” when really now, compare the number of MOBAs to shooters… or MMOs, and there are only a handful. League of Legends and Dota 2 are the top dogs right now. I think even Smite has had a difficult time getting a real following. The rest are also-rans or have already folded. I do think it’s wise for Turbine to branch out of the MMO arena but I have serious doubts Infinite Crisis will garner a serious competitive handhold in the MOBA market, especially once Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm comes out. Say what you will about Blizzard but all their products tend to dominate a given genre.

That leaves Turbine with its three primary money-makers as licensed Intellectual Properties. Lord of the Rings Online could potentially be in danger of shuttering or at least ceasing active development in 2017. Who even knows about Dungeons & Dragons Online? And just looking at how quickly some of the more unsuccessful or unpopular MOBAs have fared the past couple years, if Infinite Crisis doesn’t take, DC Comics could easily pull the license, leaving Turbine stuck with its two current licensed IPs once more. If the license period has been published, my Google-fu is failing to find it.

The one IP that Turbine has essentially been spinning its wheels with is the one that put them on the map to begin with: Asheron’s Call. It’s technically still running, and subscription-only, though I’m not certain there have been any updates in years. Asheron’s Call 2 famously shut down in 2005, but Turbine semi-quietly brought it back in December, 2012 but only for subscribers of Asheron’s Call, severely limiting its appeal. I feel Turbine is between a rock and a hard place. They’re still a small studio who appear to be unable to raise their own funds to continue their own property and build Asheron’s Call 3 (or something that continues the Asheron’s Call IP) and have little choice but to rely on licenses and publishers who pay for development. If the unthinkable were to happen and multiple licenses ended close together, that would likely shutter the entire studio.

I don’t know. Even though they’ve been around awhile and have real big-time publishers behind their licensed IPs, would Kickstarter be an appropriate method for fundraising either a continuation of the Asheron’s Call property or a new property (which honestly I can see being more viable, as it escapes the old baggage and stigma still surrounding Asheron’s Call)?

Goodbye 2013

Another year comes to a close. The older we get, the more time flies whether we’re having fun or not.

2013 was a quiet year hear at PI.net as well, only 24 total posts. Wasn’t necessarily for lack of desire, but lack of motivation to take the time to write and… well, it just didn’t happen. A fair amount of it was that I was primarily playing Xbox 360 games and despite the fact I see all my gamer social network friends buying console or PC non-MMO games constantly, no one ever writes much about them. And discussions almost never arise around non-MMOs. Not really sure why that is, but it’s always a factor in my motivation to write – or in this case, not write – about whatever games I might have in my play rotation.

The WordPress Dashboard is telling me I received (as of this writing) 6,832 visits to the site in 2013. The busiest months were April, May and June and most likely a result of sites and Google picking up my two huge wall of text Neverwinter Beta posts.

I actually came very close to canceling the host and just stopping blogging altogether. But I’ll see if I can motivate myself to do better in 2014. I still have things to say once I manage to make myself sit down to say them. Like I’m doing right now!

Respect

For the first time in a few years, I actually added some new bloggers to my Google Reader RIP Feedly and I’ve enjoyed them all but I want to specifically mention one blogger who I’ve been reading for a couple years now as well as talking with on Google+: Belghast from Tales of the Aggronaut, who made it his mission to write every day of 2013. And he did it! Based on past experiences with people such as Tobold who have often written “too much” because they’re so popular so they crank out a post because they feel they have to rather than because they have something worth saying, I was expecting Belghast’s experiment to be a disaster. I am happy to admit that he proved me very wrong! I enjoyed reading all his posts for a number of reasons. He switched “main games” a time or two, and not only did we get to see what games he switched to, but also the thought-out reasons behind those decisions. We got to hear some of his deepest-held beliefs and opinions about MMOs and the roles he enjoys playing in them. But most importantly, we got to know a lot about Mark himself, the man behind the keyboard, the real person behind the gamer/blogger nickname.

Not sure if he intends to keep up the daily writing into 2014 and beyond, but regardless, here’s me raising a glass to the Aggronaut himself! Well done, sir. Well done.

Favorite PC Games of 2013

Tomb Raider was the only new game I bought for the Xbox 360 this year because that hardware generation was coming to an end. Over the past few months I’ve decided to wait until next year sometime to decide which new console to get – if any. I’ve mostly switched back over to PC gaming again, though after the holidays when my co-op buddies are back from visiting their families, I hope to make a concerted effort to knock some of the 360 titles off my backlist finally.

Once more, Star Trek Online was by a longshot my most-played PC game this year. A small segment of our tiny fleet put in a lot of time working on our fleet holdings. The Starbase itself is approaching Tier 3 at last. And we placed some importance on getting the Dilithium Mine to Tier 1 (it’s nearing Tier 2) and the new Spire on the Dyson Sphere should be Tier 1 within a couple weeks. The Embassy on New Romulus has been Tier 1 for awhile but we’ve stopped working on it so we can get the Mine and Spire built up. The new Dyson Sphere battlezone is a blast, especially if you can get a group of friends. It’s great to have the wide-open zone and you can just run into encounters and help out without any of the old hindrances of mob tagging, etc. If Guild Wars 2 did anything, it was getting other studios to see that fully cooperative content is much more engaging than the old way of doing things.

I also had a blast in Neverwinter, despite a few months of Beta Burnout. But once I did return I enjoyed getting my Devoted Cleric to level cap, running the dungeons, playing the expansion content and so on. I still don’t like RPG-PvP so I didn’t think highly of the Arena PvP (mainly because healers die so easily, at least I do) but I’ll admit: Gauntlgrym still has some air of appeal. Mainly because I haven’t managed to see much of it yet other than one PvE session. I did end up joining the guild I was in Beta with but haven’t done a whole heck of a lot with them yet because I’ve slacked off playing the game the past two months. I’ll get back to it soon, though; I’m already showing signs of dungeon-crawling withdrawal. And that is Neverwinter’s key appeal: it’s a fun MMO-Lite-ish Action RPG that is great for challenging co-op dungeon runs whether with friends, guildmates, or strangers. 

Defiance. Yes, I said it. It isn’t the deepest game in the world, though honestly I’m not sure it’s possible to have a shooter with true depth anyway. The story campaign is decent, if not great, and to this day I don’t think Trion has managed to “fix” it where you can still play the story missions with friends unless all of you are on the exact same mission in the story. The co-op instances are fun, and can be challenging, but there aren’t nearly enough of them. For me, what saves Defiance are the Arkfalls and the Volge Sieges. (I haven’t played the new DLC yet with the Interior Arkfalls. Maybe next week.) For the same reason I mentioned with STO’s Dyson Sphere battlezone, Defiance excels in its “dynamic” PvE events. The Major Arkfalls and Volge Sieges just rule my day when I play. Here we have so many players coming together to fight big, open-world PvE encounters. In the Major Arkfalls especially, there are several smaller arkfalls to defeat before the final boss arkfall. There could be groups attacking any of the arkfalls simultaneously and then everyone jumps in the vehicles and drives off in a chaotic convoy to the next one. Having all those players rambling around and fighting together, that is a big part of what I always liked about MMOs and what I’ve come to miss now that MMOs are so small and instanced. It’s why I love Defiance, because I can’t really get that anywhere else. Not every game, not every MMO needs to fill every MMO bullet point like crafting and whatever else for no other reason than to check things off a list. Defiance is a shooter. You can’t put your gun in its holster and go bake muffins here any more than you can in a Call of Duty or Battlefield game. There’s combat content or racing content. And that’s ok.

Assassin’s Creed 4. I loved Assassin’s Creed 2 on Xbox 360. One of the few games (only 4 so far) I’ve played to 100% Gamer Score, in fact. But I picked up AC4 on PC. And on Uplay as well. Yes, Steam is good, Steam is great. But how hypocritical is it to defend or demand competition not monopolies if I only give Valve my PC gaming money? Besides, AC4 is an Ubisoft game so I may as well use Ubi’s store (which dollars to donuts is probably forced even if you buy the Steam version like Anno 2070 is). The newest Uplay even has integrated Twitch streaming and it works quite well if you’re not into dedication live streaming software with more options and flexibility. But hey, AC4 – all the action and easy parkour that is the bread and butter of the franchise but in a pirate setting? How is that not awesome? If you don’t own AC4 yet on any platform, stop reading this and go buy it!

Card Games?

Hudson gets all the thanks – or blame – for this one. I picked up the Pathfinder Adventures Card Game. Then the Character Add-on Pack. Then Deck 2… But so far I’ve only played solo, though /gasp /shock my girlfriend has actually expressed interest in playing with me, which honestly was the first and foremost hope when I decided to try it since she rather dislikes technology and videogames. It’s a pretty good game, and I like the cooperative aspect rather than pure PvP like Magic the Gathering which I played in the 90s when it was a thing. I also wasn’t overly fond of the whole deck-building thing, so Pathfinder feels like a good merge of an RPG (pure combat oriented though it may be) and a Collectible Card Game. Or do they call them Trading Card Games now? Whippersnappers…

Then Hudson managed to prey on the fact I was eagerly looking forward to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which was fantastic, by the way, to get me into The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I have the base set and the first two packs in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. However, the rules seem more complicated than Pathfinder and I haven’t yet taken the time to sit down and attempt a solo session to figure them out. The OCTGN software will let us play online but with the holidays and jobs, we haven’t had a chance yet to get online and let Hudson give me a LCG 101 course. Oh, and of course, while window shopping on Fantasy Flight Game’s site, I saw the Android Netrunner game and hey, cyberpunk? Bought it. Haven’t cracked that one open yet either.

I’ve also recently picked up Ubisoft’s F2P CCG Might & Magic Duel of Champions but I unfortunately chose the Necropolis starter deck and I’m having one helluva time winning anything with it. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been spanked in Mission 2 of the brief campaign. Mission 2, for cryin’ out loud! But it does seem like a pretty cool game, good art, great music and very Might & Magic-y in its lane-oriented battle system.

TV? TV!

I’ve had a Netflix account for years, mainly for movies, though since I’m so into Star Trek Online this year I first watched the full series of Enterprise, then over the past few months watched all of Voyager. Now I’m into Season 1 of Deep Space 9 which is slow to start off. Hopefully it picks up steam soon before Season 2. On a whim, I also watched Dollhouse. I’d only heard about it online, not sure I’d ever met anyone who’d watched it. It took a few episodes to really get into it, mostly because I didn’t really care for Eliza Dushku at first. But she and the other characters grew on me eventually. Even Topher Grace who was annoyingly whiny the whole time yet somehow I still came to enjoy his scenes.

Over on Hulu+ for the past two years I’ve used that for nothing other than Castle. This year I got to add some new shows, namely Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. That one honestly took a few episodes before it started reaching any sort of stride at all. But I’m glad it kept going and was renewed for a second season because it became interesting and the characters are finally starting to gel. Main complaint is that every single episode has to mention Coulson dying in The Avengers. Ok, we get it already, now stop relying on movie scene from a year ago and start worrying about your story in the present. Oh and since I mentioned Dollhouse above, did anyone else catch the episode where Coulson woke up and asked “did I fall asleep” and his masseuse answered “for a little while?” Cha-ching! I also thoroughly enjoyed James Spader’s new series, The Blacklist. Excellent action, intrigue, deception, plot twists… Looking forward to Season 2. A very recent addition to my Hulu+ was Almost Human, a new series starring Karl Urban. I don’t get to watch much real TV these days other than channel surfing in a hotel room so I’d never heard of it until Pete from Dragonchasers randomly mentioned it. It’s quite an endearing show. Finally, and I can’t believe I’m saying this: Arrow. First, it’s based on a DC Comics property and I’ve never been fond of DC. Chris Nolan’s “Dark Knight” movies notwithstanding. Second, it’s on the CW network. So it simply must be cheesetastic, right? Wrong! Oh, so wrong! I can’t believe how hooked on this show I became! I used Netflix on my brand-new Chromecast (though now I’m a victim of the Chromecast Netflix app’s “known issues” specifically the 16003 error, dammit!) to quite literally consume the entire Season 1 of Arrow within a week. And that’s counting me being at work and unable to watch. So it was probably more like Season 1 in three days! It seems CW isn’t handing it over to Netflix until Season 2 comes to an end, so I switched over to the Hulu+ app. But wait! CW only lets Hulu+ host the latest 5 episodes (this despite Hulu’s newest slogan “Tis the season, to watch a full season”) and Season 2 is up to Episode 9. So, I uh… /cough may or may not have relied upon torrents for the purpose of educating myself of Episodes 1 through 4… Whatever, it was worth it. Arrow has it all: great characters, great action, storyline continuity, story and character evolution, and the writers aren’t afraid to use characters and plots straight out of the comic and somehow, amazingly, make it work on the small screen. If you’ve been skipping Arrow because of CW or whatever reasons, clear your mind and go watch it, stat!

As a sort of “guilty pleasure” the only other show I’ve made a point of watching if I happened to be around (usually in a hotel when I’m working) is Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible.” I like Chef Robert Irvine’s no holds-barred attitude but more importantly, I like it’s one of the very few so-called “Reality TV” shows dedicated to really trying to help real people, instead of the usual semi-scripted retarded drama queen bullshit or talent show bullshit. The only other reality shows that fit this bill are The Biggest Loser, which my girlfriend loves to watch despite weighing no more than 115 pounds soaking wet herself. But you have real people trying to make a difference in their lives. Then the first couple seasons of The Apprentice (is that even on anymore?) where you got to watch real teamwork and leadership lessons in play. I’ve always had this sick desire to own a restaurant and while I’m doing a great job of not pursuing that – with an average 60% failure rate for new restaurants and sucking up even more of one’s life than my current job does, why exactly would I do something that insane? – I do enjoy watching Chef Robert and his team do everything they can to help struggling restaurant owners try to turn their businesses around. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, that’s just life. But the transformation is always profound and emotional, and it’s great to watch and hopefully absorb those lessons. One of his projects from Season 1 is just a few blocks down the road from my home, too and I like going there every so often.

Neverwinter: Caverns of Karrundax

Now that my Devoted Cleric is 60 and I’ve caught up on the handful of dungeons I had missed while leveling, it’s time to start working on the initial end-game stuff. There are still two dungeons that are queueable: Caverns of Karrundax and The Dread Vault. I completed Dread Vault a few days ago after queuing for that by accident, intending to click one of the skirmishes instead. So, Karrundax was all that remained of the launch dungeon content. Meanwhile, I finished up The Chasm zone content and moved into the first expansion content of Sharandar which is absolutely gorgeous!

Caverns of Karrundax was fun, and I love the sense of “exploration” at being in a new area and especially new dungeons with a group. Without going to the wiki and reading the lore, I got the impression the dungeon is set inside a volcano, as there was plenty of molten lava all over the place. That and the dungeon is located in the Mount Hotenow zone, which is a volcanic mountainous region.

The first few trash pulls went perfectly fine, and I went into my normal routine of throwing Astral Seals on as many mobs as I could successfully aim at in order to passively heal my party. Then we took a sharp corner a bit too fast and ran into a large group of mobs with one or more larger giant-type and in the frenzy accidentally pulled the next group as well. Party Wipe! Ouch! We got back up, dusted ourselves off, applied injury kits and off we went again, this time a little slower around that corner!

There are three boss fights in the dungeon, which seems to be a common theme in all of Neverwinter’s dungeons now that I think of it. Pyraphenia the Firebrand first, then The Hand of Maegera, neither of which I can remember having any particularly difficult or special attributes to the encounter. Tank and spank, for the most part. Usually, for me at least, the most difficult part of Neverwinter’s dungeons is all the adds during boss fights. My passive heals generate a shit-ton of aggro so while the Guardian Fighter (assuming the Queue gave our party one at all) might be able to hold off the boss itself, the adds swarm straight to me and it seems nine times out of ten, the dps players are just concentrating on the boss too. That leaves me running in a panic, kiting a dozen or more adds, who are usually able to get in a few swipes. One of the downsides to the Devoted Cleric is that, while I may be able to heal others fine, we only heal ourselves for 40% of the heal value at a time. I’m already squishy, kiting adds, and if I see my Astral Seal has worn off on the boss, stopping to cast it again means having to wait for the animation before I can run again so the adds have all caught up to me and I’ve taken a critical amount of damage just to toss one Astral Seal. This is where having either competent dps players in the PUG who can shift off the boss momentarily to clear the adds or having a coordinated guild group would come in handy for optimal dungeon runs. I just re-joined the guild I played beta in so hopefully after getting to know them I will be able to run end-game content with them.

The final encounter was Karrundax the Red himself, a large red dragon. To my recollection, it’s the second big dragon fight in Neverwinter, the first being the green dragon Chartilifax in the Lair of the Mad Dragon dungeon. I need to stop for a moment and congratulate the Cryptic artists and animators for their dragons. Oddly enough in my MMO “career,” I’ve slayed very few actual dragons. The first was Onyxia in World of Warcraft years ago, and I was immediately disappointed in pretty much every aspect of that raid. But anyway. To my eye, Cryptic’s art team has taken the classic look of D&D dragons we’ve seen and loved so often over the years and brought them to life. Both Chartilifax and Karrundax look exactly like what I wanted a D&D dragon to look like. And the animations! There are so many animation sets that flow together seamlessly, it’s a shame I had to take the time to fight, because both encounters I had the goofiest wide geek grin on my face!

According to the wiki, which I just read now rather than a couple nights ago when I ran the dungeon, says the encounter has four phases. Wiki tactics suggest ignoring the adds during phases two and  four and dpsing Karrundax as quickly as possible then cleaning up the adds afterward. This was my first time in and I was not aware of any of the fights. I prefer to go in and just see what’s up; I’ll save the advanced tactics for Elite mode content. I am not sure if the rest of the group was experienced in the dungeon, either. Normal mode is level 59, if I recall. There were two level 60 players, the rest were in their mid- to upper-50′s but one can never assume based on character level alone that the player behind that character is inexperienced — the character could be an alt, you just never know. Regardless, as I mentioned above about adds and my passive healing, phases two and four were absolutely miserable for me. My current build doesn’t have enough dps to fend them off adequately so I ended up kiting for my life and using well over 20 health potions. I was kiting so much that I ended up not being able to toss Astral Seals around several times so we lost a couple party members along the way, which either I or another party member was able to revive. I have another build I’ve decided to respec to, so we’ll see if that also helps my dps a bit. If nothing else, it does add Astral Shield to the mix, which I currently do not have points in at all.

In the end, the PUG was able to down the red dragon though! I stayed up way too late at night doing this dungeon, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was so amped afterward that it took awhile to wind down so I could sleep.

Here’s a slideshow of shots I took of the demo replay of the Karrundax fight:

PUGventures

Perhaps I’ll come up with an actual semi-regular column for these PUG posts?

Since I enjoyed writing my first PUGventures post, I thought I’d share a few more recent experiences.

First up: TERA. Last week I reached level 43 with my Lancer which made him eligible for the next dungeon, Necromancer’s Tomb. His Item Level (iLvl) was a few points over the minimum for the dungeon, so why not? Sure beats solo grinding quests. Or so I thought. Talk about having an off day on my tanking ability! I don’t think I’ve tanked that badly since my WoW 1.0 days when I was just learning the basics of tanking. I can let myself off the hook a bit for not knowing Boss and minion special attacks and their attack speeds and tells, after all it was my first time in there. But I felt like every single thing I did was mis-timed or just the wrong reaction period at the wrong time. I think I died three times total. Once was immediately after being resurrected; there wasn’t even time to move from standing up to taking critical splash damage from the Boss’ attack. However, to add a positive note, I had been communicating with the rest of the group that it was my first time and even that I was obviously having an off-day. They were cool with it, saying “hey, it happens to the best of us, don’t worry.” So, again I will reiterate my statement from the first article: someone has to step up to the plate in PUGs and be friendly and communicative, or the entire experience will be selfish, silent and negative. If you’re the type always complaining about silent antisocial PUG / Dungeon Finder experiences, then you are part of the problem if you behave the same and do nothing to at least try to make it a better experience.

Star Trek Online. In STO, using the PvE Queue is pretty much the only way I get groups at all. STO does have a fine community, but in Queue PUGs it’s just as silent and antisocial as any other MMO. Unfortunately, here I get to be a hypocrite (remember my credo: Gamers are Hypocrites! I’m a gamer, so I have to apply that to myself) in that over the years I’ve become one of those silent players as well. I know what to do in the Space STFs and once upon a time it was a near-certainty that even in PUGs if you joined an Elite STF everyone there knew what they were doing. Not the case today. I’d been on a break from STO for a few months and it had been even longer since I’d done any STFs but the past couple weeks I’ve been dipping my toes back in so that I can finally get some Mark XII MACO gear. Infected: The Conduit (Elite) (formerly known as Infected Space Elite or ISE) is still by far the easiest space STF even on Elite. However, the new Queue crowd has a penchant for not blowing the nanite generators properly so failing the optional objective happens half the time, if not more often. That used to be something you’d only see in the Normal version when people were learning, then people would try to do it right on Elite. However, the other popular Space STF, The Cure: Found has been an absolute disaster. (I’m ignoring Khitomer Accord, it’s not popular with me =D ) Not only has every single PUG failed the optional, all but one has failed the entire STF due to not protecting the I.K.S. Kang at all. Here I go with a “back in the day-ism,” but back in the day there was always at least one person who queued for The Cure (quite often in a Klingon cruiser or carrier) specifically to guard and heal the Kang. The past couple weeks not only is no one supporting the Kang, but they don’t even stick with the group; everyone runs off in random directions to pew pew things solo, which wastes time (a lot of optionals are on timers as well). It’s been unbelievably frustrating and my temper has been at an all-time high, which is the other reason I’ve been maintaining the typical silent treatment: in my own opinion, I lack tact especially when anger and other emotions are factoring in, so I could easily turn an already antisocial experience into a downright hostile one if I spouted off something snippy even if good intentions were the underlying motivation.

Neverwinter. Still having an absolute blast in Neverwinter and am happy that my Galeb Duhr companion is leveling up so he can withstand more hits while tanking for me. Still, he’s not quite there yet so I’ve been burning through more potions at 60 than I have the entire game. At least it feels like it. One of the great things about Neverwinter is that there is no mob tagging. Similar to Guild Wars 2, Neverwinter’s PvE is a totally cooperative experience so anyone can jump in and attack or heal anyone else with no penalty to anyone’s XP or anything else. Being so squishy, that has actually been one of my primary methods to complete quests, following around other players who have way more dps than my Devoted Cleric then help kill the mobs while casting Astral Seals on them to heal those players. That seems an optimal trade to me: I’ll make sure you stay alive, you kill those mobs I need. Last night, after encountering a couple other players several times in the Underdark, we decided to just make it official and group up. All of us were very friendly, communicative, and just took it easy. We completed several quests, including two instances and by the time I went to bed all four of my companions were training to level up! That was by far the most fun I’ve had in the normal Neverwinter PvE game. In Dungeon news, I am now caught up with the lower-level dungeons so am free to run Caverns of Karrundax and the Dread Vault on Normal then shift to Elite to start getting the Tier 1 dungeon gear, then eventually move up to Tier 2!