Monday, 30 September 2013

Raid Rage: Do we really have the right?

Having previously stated that no-one talks in looking for raid I now have to revise this opinion and not for the better. My LFR group has just wiped for the 3rd time on Megaera and (since the first wipe) the instance chat has been filled with a lot of vitriol directed at one of the tanks for not knowing their job.

‘FFS’ and ‘OMG ur crap’ are flying left, right and centre, and, in the time it takes for the raid to vent its collective spleen, I began to think about the whole situation. I understand that there is a degree of frustration in dying, suddenly that quick and easy run of ours has become not so quick and easy, but is that sufficient reason to repeatedly insult the tank?

To give a bit of background after the first wipe one of the two tanks admitted that they had not done this fight before and so were not 100% sure on what to do. This elicited such knowledgeable responses and ‘leave the raid’ and ‘go read a guide’ before the other tank tells them to focus on the blue head (we are fighting a hydra monster, complete with multiplying heads) and then switch, when the group shifts its focus.

SO the second fight does indeed go on for longer, but when we switch to another ahead the learner tank switches to the wrong head, cue wipe and further tirades of abuse. I am not exactly sure how the tank was supposed to know which of the two other heads was the right one (given it starts with 3). I have a look at those people giving the tank grief, find that all of them are performing the damage role (the same role as me and 16 others in the raid of 25) and begin to wonder whether they have ever tried to tank a raid.

The damage class within raids are the hammer to the tanks anvil, dishing out punishment to all comers. However (within LFR at least) it’s the easiest role to fulfil, providing your gear is suitably high and you copy what the other damage people are doing you can get by without too much trouble. In fact you can die at the beginning of a boss fight and get resurrected at the end without too much comment, other than the occasional jibe at how much of a ‘noob’ you are. For when you are damage you are important collectively, but not necessarily individually.

However tanking is a completely different ball-game; you are one of two in a 25-person group and if you die or make a wrong move the raid often wipes (dies). A good tank can make a heck of a difference within a raid, but these good tanks have to come from somewhere and try each raid for the first time. I guess I felt that members of the raid were being unfair to that particular tank and that maybe more constructive advice could have been given. Again it goes back to this idea that a raid should be more than the sum of its parts, it should be people working together to overcome a challenge, even if part of that challenge is that a person in a critical role has not done a particular raid before. I think that if between the first and second wipe someone had explained to the tank exactly how the fight went down and at what point they should be on what head it could have gone differently.

Therein lies the problem of which I’ll happily admit being part of, if I knew the fight then I could fill that role, but I don’t. To be frank I have gotten lazy in LFR, I know that as a damage role I can pick one of the other 16 damage dealers and copy their attack patterns if I am not sure. So maybe that’s the solution, maybe we should all try to be familiar with the parts each of the roles (healer, tank and damage) should play within each boss fight, then when someone who is uncertain is stepping up for the first time we can be there to support.

Don’t get me wrong, not every raid goes down like the above, but when it does stick by the player (whatever role they may be) and give them constructive advice on what they need to do. At the same time there will always be those who rush in and ignore whatever advice is offered by anyone and there is definitely scope for kicking them, but everyone deserves a chance.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Wasteland 2 versus Take That

Baldur's gate
Back in the old days it was all isometrics, random encounters and big choices!

Nostalgia, ‘the good ol days’, the ‘when I was young’ time, call it what you will, no matter who you are I reckon that there are some days or periods in your life that you would love to revisit and relive, but with all that you know now. It seems that for a number of us this would include playing some of the old computer games we used to love because ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore’ and now thanks to kickstarter it looks like they might start ‘making ‘em like that’ again, but where will this road take us? 

I am nostalgic, one of the strongest memories I have to this day is the first time I booted up Fallout 2 and heard those epic words ‘war, war never changes’, I can also clearly remember marvelling the sheer number of discs that the original Baldur’s Gate came on. It’s therefore no surprise that I own the Baldur’s Gate enhanced edition and was excited to see the progress being made on Wasteland 2, in many ways the precursor to the fallout series. However as I watched the latest video on the game, which looks brilliant by the way, and heard them talk about the exciting features of the game I found myself asking ‘well what’s actually new’? Don’t get me wrong, in many ways a big part of my craves a new top down RPG to be that new fallout 2 with up to date graphics and will almost certainly buy it on that basis alone, however part of me wants something more.

It is around this point that the analogy that titles this piece began to form within my head and yeah at first glance it looks a bit weird, particularly if you hate Take That! Now when they were first formed Take That were THE boy band in many ways and were incredibly successful. So the distress caused by Robbie leaving and then the splitting of the band were only to be expected, for the sake proving a point we are ignoring boyzone here! When the band reformed, they did not do it in order to do a greatest hits tour of their old material, they had become a new entity. Yes they did perform a lot of old favourites, but the focus was on the new material which reflected the change within the band themselves from a boy band to a man band. The new songs they performed resonated with old and new fans alike, building on what each of them had learned from their time apart. It would have been easier to just do that greatest hits tour and give the public exactly what it wanted, however they chose to give fans something they didn’t even realise they were lacking.

I guess that’s my one concern with Wasteland 2, I don’t just want a greatest hits of their previous material. Yes, I do want it to have that feel which satisfies my nostalgia, but I want them to show me something different (although I’ll admit it I am not sure exactly what I want). In their kickstarter video they mention that there will be weighty moral choices, well that’s cool but sort of par for the post-apocalyptic course (see the decision about megaton in fallout 3). I am particularly interested to see how they execute this, I want to have to agonise over the ‘correct’ choice (and those who it will affect) and want to see constant reminders of my choice and its impact.

So that’s the gauntlet in front of Wasteland 2, don’t just give us an updated fallout 2, surprise us, amaze us and show us something new that will have a future generation looking back and saying ‘they don’t make ‘em’ like that anymore!’

Monday, 23 September 2013

Crafting in WoW: See you at 80!

For me, one of the most important aspects of any online game is the crafting system (if there is one). There is nothing quite like the feeling of being able to gather up materials and put them together to create some awesome gear. I love to be able to look at something, say ‘I made that’ and then beat someone over the head with it.

World of Warcraft Leatherworking
What do you mean I cannot make anything useful!

This is why when I started playing World of Warcraft for the first time (back in the days before even the first expansion) it blew my mind. In the offline RPGs I had being playing previously there was maybe a castle to upgrade or bits of a sword to collect, but never had I seen such a crafting tree. 

When my first ever character set out in to Azeroth determined to be a tailor I was excited with the possibilities. The cloth I needed seemed to drop often enough that I always seemed to make something level appropriate and useful. Back then there was no dungeon finder and so (for someone who did not know many other players) the great loot from the dungeons was often off-limits.

So when I returned to Azeroth this summer with my panda monk, I looked forward to being decked out in some brilliant home-made leather (at least for a while). However, for a game that has revamped zone and introduced new classes, the structure of the crafting system appears unchanged (at the lower end of the spectrum). In fact, now that the levelling speed has been increased, you often find yourself leaving a zone before you have reached the skinning level required for the mobs in the next one. Also there seems to be a mismatch between the mobs that drop the required leather and the level requirements for the item created. For example Dusky Leather Armor required 10 Heavy Leather and has a level requirement of 30, from wow-professions (an excellent professions guide) I know that the yetis in Feralas are my best source, but these are 5 levels above the required level for the item. So by the time I am capable of taking them down in sufficient numbers the item itself that I set out to make is obsolete.

Then there is the dungeon finder, back in the old days it was hard to get a group together for a dungeon (particularly if you did not have an active guild) and so it was quite hard for players to get the dungeon rewards (which often contained some really good gear). Now that all you need to do is que and wait for a group to form people can run the dungeons repeatedly and quickly, thus they are easily able to get gear which is superior to that which can be crafted. I am not saying the dungeon finder is a bad thing, it has allowed me to experience parts of the game I would not be able to otherwise, but it would be nice to see them make changes to the crafting system to make it feel more relevant earlier on. Maybe there could be more recipes dropping in those earlier dungeons or a special dungeon resource that can be used to craft amazing lower-level gear.

I am by no means saying that the crafting system is bad; once you get out of vanilla and outlands it seems to find its stride again. However I would love to feel that sense of achievement I feel when crafting an item with my max level paladin, when I am crafting something for my mid-level monk. I don’t want to be grinding my crafting skill through to level 70-80 in order for it to become relevant. That said, its time for me to go farm fel scales, see you later (a lot later!).

World of Warcraft Farming
I am going to outland, I may be some time.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Is there anybody out there: My first World of Warcraft Raid

This is it, the big one! I know the skills I should be using, the features of each of the bosses and the average level of my items has just tripped over the minimum requirement for my first ever World of Warcraft raid; The Guardians of the Mogu’Shan!

These large scale instances have always been for me the light at the end of WoW’s long levelling tunnel. That’s not to say I have not enjoyed levelling, I have, but these instances are what everybody talks about; the unique boss fights, the inevitable wipe and the amazing drops and so it was with a lot of anticipation that I clicked the enter raid button presented by the ‘looking for raid’ feature.

I am using the ‘looking for raid’(LFR) feature because my tiny guild does not have enough level 90s to field a full 25-person raid team and so I am grouped with other randoms and given a minor increase in stats to account for the fact that we have never worked as a team before. In addition the bosses themselves are also slightly easier and so if you are being a purist about this I guess you could consider it be the diet-coke of the raiding world. I am also playing a damage role, meaning that my job is to cause as much damage as humanly possible, without becoming such a big target that the boss attacks me instead of one of the two tanks (whose job it is to maintain the attention of bosses and baddies at all times!) or requiring too much attention from the healers in the group. I assumed, given the scale of it, that our raid leader would do a quick ‘hello, this is the plan..’ before we set off, however I was wrong……

It's a shame there is no Karaoke in this pub. 'All by myself!!!!!!'

The first thing I noticed on entering the raid was how quiet the raid chat was, once a handful of ‘hellos’ we just seemed to charge forward without so much as a by your leave. The instance itself felt suitably epic, with its giant elegantly decorated rooms and the instance itself felt like it had a greater tie to the story than some of the dungeons I did in order to gear up for the instance. With little or no communication we tore through the monsters leading up to the first boss (Three stone dogs) and yes we did pause, but only so that, without saying a word, people could cast their stat boosting spells and recharge their mana/health. The fight itself felt impressive and I felt a certain pleasure in delivering the killing blow on one of the dogs myself, this was further enhanced when one of them dropped a piece of gear I could use. Again we charged onwards to the next boss, again a short pause followed by a quick, but intense boss fight. It was about this time that my slightly slow brain seemed to realise something, the majority of other people seemed to know exactly what to do and when.

The people in this LFR did not need to talk to anyone because most of them already knew how each fight played out and how they could fulfil their role most effectively. The LFR system rewards its users with valor points for each raid completed, which is then used to buy/upgrade high level gear and so of course people are going to run the same raids day in, day out!

With the final boss down and without so much as a goodbye the group disbanded and I was left to think about what I had just experienced. Yes, I had fought some really cool boss fights, but I still felt like something was missing, I entered the raid wanting to be part of a team that worked together to take down incredible foes and instead it felt like multiple individuals attacking the same target. Then 

I understood that that was not the point of LFR, LFR serves to provide access to end game content, so that people like me (whose guilds cannot field a raid team) are not cut out completely from a major aspect of the game and on that score it succeeds. However I have now realised that I need more than that from my raids, I want to be a part of a team and so, given my guild has about 5 active members, I think it might be time to look for some new friends to play with.

Sha of Anger Raid
Even attacks one the world bosses are pretty silent!

What have been your large-scale instance experiences in MMOs in general? Which MMO do you think has the best end game material? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Test Drive: Age of Wushu

I have been wondering recently about exactly how much you can do in your first day within an MMO, how much of the story can you see? Are you able to get in to any crafting in a meaningful manner? How much combat is there? So I thought I would try and find out.
The brief is simple pick an MMO and play it for a day, see what happen and how much I can do. This is not a speed levelling run, just a chance to see what you get when you spend your first day in the games environs. Now on to the main event…

Age of Wushu is a martial-arts roleplaying game set within a game-world influenced heavily by Ancient China (no surprise there for a martial-arts game). I found out about this game through an article in a PC gaming magazine, but never really had much of a reason to try it out until now! It took a bit of a while to register my snail account, with about 20mins of registration failure before I got set up. The client is about 8 GB, so make sure you have a DVD on hand to watch, or maybe do the ironing.

Poor Brian
PoorBrian in all his ragged glory!

Having downloaded the client and logged in, I begin creating my character. At present there are a limited range of visual options, but I manage to find something suitably bedraggled for my scruffy-faced character. I also need to select my origins story (which affects my starting place and probably my story-arc) and, having reviewed the option, plump for the ‘abducted sister in need of rescuing’ option (it seems suitably heart-breaking and I have decided this character is definitely going to be a tragic one). Then comes that most crucial of moments……….. the name! Given the rough-shod look and depressing backstory, one name leaps to the fore and thus PoorBrian is created!

So PoorBrian enters the world of Wushu and is lost within about 5 minutes (how unfortunate!). The quest pointers don’t always pop up on the map and so I have to mouse over the markers to find where I need to go (shock, horror!). The fact that there are so many markers on the map makes this feel like a needle in a haystack at times and I even find that clicking on the person’s name in the quest makes PoorBrian automatically walk to them, result!

The first hour or so is spent with the initial tutorial quests learning a few combat basics and fetching things for NPCs, a lot of things. I am even treated to a lovely cut-scene where PoorBrian relives the tragic abduction of his sister, before meeting a strange veiled lady who is stalking him (I wonder who she will turn out to be?). During this time there is a lot that you have to take in, particularly the interesting way that levelling is dealt with. You gain experience, which is gradually converted into cultivation (representing the fact that all that fetching has taught PoorBrian a lot, but he must first reflect on it). You select a skill to cultivate and it levels up as your experience is turned in to cultivation, voila reflecting on my time spent fetching a kite from a roof has increased my skill to fire a ball of chi. 

Who can this be
This is definitely NOT your missing sister!

After the initial introduction quests you are asked to choose a school of martial-arts to study (akin to choosing your class in other games), with 8 choices on offer. My eye lights upon the beggar school, that looks like the destiny of PoorBrian and I add a mental note to his backstory (namely he bankrupted himself after the abduction of his sister, spending all his money on products for the incredibly well-styled hair he has). However before he can join PoorBrian must first learn to beg, a task easily accomplished by finding the begging trainer and thus PoorBrian becomes PoorBrian the beggar!

For a group of alleged beggar the village in which they live is pretty plush, with a central stone building containing the head beggar that PoorBrian is desperate to meet. After a series of small quests, in which Poor Brian is taught the way of the beggar, our hero is sent back to the starting village and so armed with a new set of skills (and a begging bowl) PoorBrian heads off to help expel some snakes and thugs from a local tea forest.

Everything is going swimmingly, snakes are dying left, right & centre and guards fall beneath my hands (and I even manage to propel a few off of cliff). Suddenly from nowhere another player attacks and kills me in 2 hits, although dying is no big thing (you simply revive on-site or at the nearest town) it still feels a bit unfair, but griefing happens in any mmo and Age of Wushu even warns you each time you go in that it is a PvP environment. I hastily click revive on-site and PoorBrian is back on his feet, the next section of the quest asks me to form a team and try out a 3 man technique in an instance. The game shows me how to form a team and search for other players, but there are none around. It is at this point I hit a bit of a wall, with no-one around I cannot further the story (I did try to solo it and it ended up Reaper 2 PoorBrian 0) and so I decide to try my hand at crafting.

Begging Brian
Begging is a skill and you can even try to sell random bags to other players!

Learning the necessary gathering skills is a simple matter of finding a trainer and paying for the skill, so armed with a pick-axe and axe-axe PoorBrian sets off to become the EasyJet of the mining and logging worlds! It all goes quite well and I soon have a good number of logs and ore, but you can never have enough, when the game suddenly tells me I have reached my skill cap for the day and should try again tomorrow. I have to admit this irks me somewhat, but no matter I will simply go make something with the resources I have gathered. Having learned the blacksmithing skill I quickly make my first item and am introduced to a gem matching mini-game which allows me to increase me mining skill further, this is a fun addition. However, I quickly hit my skill cap again and then another bystander kills me, again! This calls for drastic action…….

Therefore PoorBrian, who has come so far since the day his sister was abducted (who is obviously NOT the mysterious girl who follows him at every turn) and who dreams of becoming the greatest beggar of all time, sets off once more for the tea forest. The plan; to stand outside the instance and kill every enemy npc in sight, hoping that someone will help me complete it. PoorBrian stands, the body of a fallen tea guard at his feet, chi radiating off of him and the next one targeted. The in the distance heading toward him, another player, finally he can get that one bit closer to saving his sister, it’s the guys who killed him earlier. Oh dear……………………

You will end up seeing this a lot!

All in all, Age of Wushu was fun to play, but I don’t think I will be returning to it, or at least not until much later in its development (as it is still a work in progress). It is a beautiful world, but one that is hampered by unnecessary skill caps and the sometimes confusing quests. In addition the in-game store rents items out rather than offering an outright purchase, this would make me reluctant to purchase and spend any in game currency. However it deserves a lot of credit for its unique approach to levelling and for the fact it succeeds in creating a game which feels believable. While it’s not something I like personally, it does have a lot to recommend it and could be reward for someone willing to dedicate the time (and money) required to work through the early stages. It’s free to create and account on Age of Wushu, so if this sounds like your game, give it a go!