Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Can I Borrow Some Hours?

Like Blue Kae, I'm playing too many games for the meager amount of time I have free. I don't generally even start playing until after 9, because my job is pretty demanding with the hours, plus I decided to do some consulting on the side. And then of course I have a wife and a baby that have demands (particularly the baby!) and a house to maintain. But somehow I still manage to squeeze in enough time to explore some of these online worlds that fascinate me.

So what have I been playing?

EverQuest II

Well, EverQuest II still. I have two accounts. I am going to start a third account for a month (since, with Refer-a-Friend, it doesn't really cost extra) so I will try my hand at triple-boxing. I'm sure that will make doing quests somewhat of a nuisance, but I don't really like quests anyway. Instead, I'll try plowing through some of the dungeons solo. I don't know what it is about multiboxing in EQ2 that I enjoy so much, but it's a lot of fun. I've always like playing multiple characters; the first CRPGs I played were games like Might and Magic and Bard's Tale where you created and controlled a full group at a time.

Dungeons and Dragons Online

I have some real life friends I meet up in Dungeons and Dragons Online. I'm still enjoying the game, but I had some awful PUG experiences. I think my last group was started by a ten year old. It fell apart miserably. This could be a drawback of having a free to play game: there is no barrier to entry for maturity. Not that an 18 year old with a credit card and a summer job is that mature, but at least they might be able to form a coherent English sentence. When you are doing elite difficulty quests, that ability comes in handy.


Lastly, I'm playing Aion. I paid for it, so I figure I may as well. So far I've only gotten to level 6, so no further than I did in beta. I haven't earned my wings. I think I should at least do that before making my final judgment. But, so far, I'm really not liking the game.

I know people say you can't judge an MMO after only a few hours of gameplay, but I think that's crap. I mean, granted, I can't judge the PVP, since I haven't tried it. And I can't judge the end game. But I can tell you that 99% of the gameplay is the same old quest based grind we get in World of Warcraft and EverQuest II. And it's mostly really simplistic quests like: kill X or run to someone and click on them.

EverQuest II is rife with those quests too, but it tends to shake them up a bit with other kinds of quests as well: discovery quests, quests that require using an item in your inventory in some fashion, quests where you have to avoid killing the mobs you are fighting, etc. So it shakes things up, and that's what keeps me interested.

The combat, so far, is dull, but then combat in EQ2 was dull under level 10 as well. Mostly I root or slow the mob and shoot them a couple times with ranged magic attacks. Rinse, repeat. I'll have to find a dungeon or a named and see how things differ in a group or against more elite mobs, but I haven't found those yet.

What Next?

Well, I guess I'll have to focus, and that's likely to be EverQuest II again. I just can't seem to find a game to replace it. I guess that's a good thing.

I'll probably keep D&D Online going on the side, but just when my real life friends are in game since the dungeons are a blast with the right company. I don't know how much longevity the game will have, for me, if my friends get bored of it and move on: the problem I have with it so far is that, even with henchmen, you really need to group, but my PUG experiences have been extremely poor so far.

I have a feeling I won't be continuing the Aion subscription after the free month expires. When I feel like I've toured the world enough to get a good feel for it, I'll move on and find something else to fill up those free hours. I'm not sure what that will be. Maybe something to give me a reprieve from all these fantasy games I play:

I'm somewhat curious about Fallen Earth because I like the idea of a sandbox based gameplay and I like the post-apocalyptic setting. However, I don't think what is obviously not a AAA title should be charging the same subscription fee as the leaders of the pack like World of Warcraft. It doesn't even look polished from the screenshots, and while I can tolerate that if the gameplay is solid, it should still be priced accordingly.

I'm also curious about Champions Online but mostly from a comparative standpoint, to see how it fares in gameplay compared to City of Heroes. I also like the idea behind the Nemesis system.

Or maybe I'll play more single player games or, heck, get back into some non-computer game related hobbies, like writing music again. Either way, I really need more hours in the day for everything I want to do.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

This Only Happens Once

Ah - the excitement of a new MMO, as throngs of new players log on for the first time, breathe in the fresh air of a new world, and shout in unison "OMFG LOL ROFLCOPTER GOGOGOGO WHERE MY BROS AT".

I know I said I think I wasted my money on Aion on my twitter account (@mymomentofzen). That opinion hasn't changed. But I did preorder it, so I may as well give it a somewhat more serious look. At least for the month I've already paid for.

So far, after getting to level 3 and having the server kick me off, all I've seen is this lovely "server is full, wait 4 hours" message.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Like Multiboxing On a Single Account

Recently I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons Online. I tried the game when it first launched and enjoyed it, but it never seemed worth the $15 a month. So I played off and on for a month and quit. Never looked back.

Now it's free to play. And you know what? They actually made $12 off of me yesterday. And you know why I was so willing to plunk down money on DDO when I never paid for microtransactions in any other game (including Runes of Magic, Atlantica Online) or paid extra for a freemium tier (in games like Dungeon Runners)? Because I didn't feel like I had to. I was already having fun. Paying extra felt like it was something I just wanted to do. That's the trick. Turbine did microtransactions right.

One of the features I've really been enjoying are the hirelings. Part of the reason for this is - I simply enjoy playing with more than one character. It just feels more natural. I grew up on games like Bard's Tale and Wizardry and Might and Magic where you took an entire part through dungeons.

Nowadays games like World of Warcraft design most of the content so that its soloable. But here's the problem: since they can't tell in advance what skills any player will bring to the table, the quests and mobs are designed for the lowest common denominator. Which means they don't deal much damage to threaten a tank because that would cause them to destroy the cloth armor classes. Which means they can't have so much HP that they challenge a wizard because the tanks would still be fighting their very first mob when that wizard gets to the level cap. Which means the quests can't require you to do things like feign death or sneak or disarm a trap as a part of the quest without inexplicably requiring you to do so with a specific bauble.

So the quests and mobs became more of a chore. They aren't that exciting. You have your spell rotation and know exactly what you are going to do for almost every solo mob in the game.

With games that allow hirelings, there's no problem like that. Designers can expect that you will have an array of different skills and will likely have a rogue, a healer, and a tank in the group. They can have quests that expect one person to be in one place while another player has to do something elsewhere (pull a lever, keep two monsters separated, whatever.)

With hirelings, you tackle the same group content that everyone else does. Only you have NPCs to pad the party out for those times when you can't find a group (one of the reasons I quit DDO originally was the sometimes lengthy spells I'd be jumping up and down in a bar shouting LFG) or don't want to find a group (not necessarily because I'm antisocial - maybe I just know my baby will wake up within the hour and want to start on a dungeon but know I might have to go AFK for 30 minutes at any moment.)

So Dungeons and Dragons Online has been a lot more fun. Since I can always find a group - I can make my own when other players aren't doing what I need or want to do - there's no unwanted downtime. I just go and find the quest, summon some help, and go. And the game play is more interesting: playing NPCs allow you to bring more skills to the table since you are no longer confined to a very narrow role.

It hasn't been entirely without challenges. The NPCs do exactly what I tell them and a single misclick can cause them to rather happily run through the acid laden spike traps until they die. But that's part of the fun.

What about grouping? MMOs should encourage grouping right? I agree. Hirelings also improve grouping. I've convinced some real life friends to give Dungeons and Dragons Online a shot. Early on, we ran into a problem: I play a paladin in my real life D&D campaign and I decided to recreate that character in game as my main. My friend also made a paladin as well. I also have a cleric and a monk and a wizard but I didn't want to play them at the time. There was a specific quest I wanted to finish, on my paladin. My friend's other character (he only had two slots) was still on the starter island and couldn't group with me. We weren't going to get far without a healer, unless we played the easier difficulty levels. But no problem! We bought one in game and off we went.

Hirelings in Dungeons and Dragons Online could be better. The way theya re implemented, they are temporary. But in some games they are permanent and have their own inventory and skills. Guild Wars, for instance, allows you to have Heroes that you can improve in game. That's a great way to introduce lateral progression to a game. Instead of simply adding more and more levels, a game with Heroes can add more variety to the Heroes, and players will be addicted on two fronts: collecting all the Heroes, and leveling each of them up.

I wish more games would move away from the dichotomy between group content and solo content. The solo content is generally just no fun. But the more interesting, challenging, and scripted content, the dungeon crawls, have historically been relegated to groups only. To make games more accessible to the casual time-challenged players, instead of dumbing down the mobs and the quests, it's much better to let players round out the party and fill needed roles with NPCs.

I wish EverQuest II had hirelings. But if they did it well, they'd probably lose my second account. And there are a LOT of EverQuest II players who at least dual box. So I guess that won't happen. :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Another NCSoft MMO Bites the Dust

Dungeon Runners is shutting down. I can't say I'm surprised. I tried the game a few times and thought it was cute, but ultimately I decided the game wasn't for me. The game used a freemium model of play where you could optionally choose to pay for extras. Though those extras included better loot and stacking potions, and without them inventory management was annoying, so it kind, to me, like it was necessary.

I wasn't attracted to the humor or the cartoonish graphics. The game didn't take itself seriously at all, which might be part of the appeal to me, but not for me. They are putting a nuke in the main town set to blow up when the servers go down for good. Yeah, a nuke. And some of the weapons included pizza cutters and guitars.

So it's not a game that I'll miss. Though I have to wonder what's going on with NCSoft after several consistent failures in a row. Of course it makes no sense to run a game that doesn't make money, but it almost seems like they aren't even bothering to try. At least Sony tosses them into their Station Access collection where they can go on into MMO undeath. Sure, Sony shut down Matrix Online but they still have quite a few games like Planetside and Pirates of the Burning Sea that would have definitely seen death's door already if they were NCSoft titles.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Secret World A Little Less Secret Now

A few trickles of information have been unveiled about the Secret World. Gamespot has a reveal on the Factions that will be part of the game's backstory. And there is an Initiation Test on the main web site, http://www.darkdaysarecoming.com/, that lets you figure out which of the three in game Factions you are most suited for.

I guess I'll be a Dragon. Working from the shadows, patient, subtle, and strategic. That's so me.

The quality of the promotional material is impressive. Unfortunately, we still know little about what the actual game play will be like. But I'm patient. All will be revealed in due course...