Warhammer


Ysharros at Stylish Corpse has an interesting discussion going about travel in MMOs.  She differentiates between meaningful travel (as in “I am exploring the area so travel is part of the fun”) and meaningless travel (as in “I just need to get to the next bloody town, already”).

Travel options are important in any MMO.  Run speed, fast travel, mapping / hearthstones, etc., all effect how big the world feels and can contribute to either the fun or the tedium players experience in games.  If travel is a pain, players may be less likely to want to go out of their way to explore.  If travel is too easy or too immersion-breaking, the world feels tiny or trivial.

Of any MMO I’ve played, I like LotRO’s travel options the best, that is: I like the range of possibilities the best.  I still have issues with some of the offerings.  Player mounts are too weak and take too little damage before players get knocked off of them.  In some places, stealthed mobs on the roads make mounting up a waste of time.  Durable reputation mounts are an improvement, but not by much.  I like the swift travel and regular travel horses.  They function like eagles and wyvrns in WoW but you can hop off them whenever you choose.  There are also hunter ports and various types of summons available.  Overall, the list is impressive.  The one thing I’d really like is a player sprint ability available at level one so we could get our lowbies around faster.

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Note: Since WotLK is still early in it’s release, I have divided this post into not-spoilers and spoilers.  In the top part is spoiler-free but clicking more below will reveal a fair amount about the quests and structure of both the Death Knight area in WotLK.

Last night I finally got my copy of WotLK installed having gotten it on lunch.  After a couple minutes of upgrading my account, etc., I got in (I did most of the software patching the other night which took about three hours).  Once in the game I had the option to enter using one of my old toons or create a brand new Death Knight.  I deleted one of my lowbie alts and created a Forsaken Death Knight and away I went.  (More info in the spoilers section.)

Let me just say that Blizz is the market leader in this field for a reason and last night was non-stop fun for me.  You know you’re having fun when you realize that three hours have passed and you still can’t stop exploring and questing.  Logging off was actually painful, it was that much fun.  Many of the things I saw and did were available in other games I’ve played but, true to form, Blizz put their own spin on them and made them shine.  I highly recommend trying the Death Knight even if you roll one just to get through the starting instance.  It’s well worth it.

As Tobold said recently:

I prefer the term quality of execution over the term ‘polish’, but however you call it, Wrath of the Lich King has oodles of it. And if I compare it with the last two major MMORPGs released, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, I can only say that Wrath of the Lich King wins easily in the quality department. That isn’t to say that somebody can’t prefer the faster combat of AoC, or the PvP of WAR. WoW remains WoW, and if you prefer a fundamentally different sort of game play, WotLK won’t deliver that. But at no point in Wrath of the Lich King does one have the impression that one is playing an outdated game.

I agree.  I don’t think other game companies start out wanting to create unfun things.  They start off with a fun concept and implement it.  The difference is that Blizzard then refines that basic idea and mechanic until every aspect of it shines.  The siege engines in WAR worked.  The siege engines in WoW worked AND every aspect of them was fun.  Aiming them was fun.  Using them was challenging.  I still think WAR is a good game and I’m still enjoying LotRO, but both Mythic and Turbine could learn a few things from Blizzard in taking a basic idea and implementing it in such a way as to inspire the wonder most people expect from their fantasy games.

Next up, I’ll actually have to get my warrior into the new zones.

Clicking next will open up the spoiler part.

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WAR
I cancelled my account.  There are a number of reasons why I decided to let WAR go.  Population shift is the big one.  The dispersal of WARs’ population into different tiers is leaving tiers one and two abandoned as most people are in tiers three and four.  I’m an altoholic at times and rolling alts in WAR is impractical.  Open RvR is a hit or miss proposition: when it happens, it’s great; but it doesn’t happen often.  Other than that, the PvE is good (at least I don’t have a problem with it) and open RvR is great when it happens (though it seems to happen far too infrequently).  Scenarios are ok as well – I like them better than most of their WoW counterparts.  Still though, when I’m in WAR, I miss my friends from LotRO and while some aspects of WAR are certainly a lot of fun, not having my group of lunatics to share it with dulls the brightest of gems.

WAR is a good game but, given my interests and play style, it’s not for me at the moment.  With both LotRO and WoW coming up with expansions soon, I can’t justify paying for a game I’ll visit only occasionally while enjoying two others.  I may revisit WAR at a later time and I’ll certainly keep an eye on it as the game progresses.

LotRO
I’ve been goofing off with friends and my kinship mates.  This past weekend we had an exploration run of some ruins in Dun Covad recently.  We found and killed a boss I didn’t know what there previously and also found the old path through the city to Carn Dum.  Lots of fun was had by all.  Some friends and I are restarting our hobbit adventure group and we’re getting set up for the upcoming expansion into the Mines of Moria.

I’ve also been rereading the Lord of the Rings and taking mental notes about where I’d like to go and what I’d like to see.

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Among the many great posts over at Killed in a Smiling Accident is a recent gem by Melmoth about the sense of wonder and awe these games can bring out of the players.

This is, I think, what MMOs so often overlook in their quest to be popular and appeal to the masses, they focus so much on the balance, the mechanics, the format and the structure of the game that they forget to add in that quintessential essence of adventure. This is what Blizzard did so well in World of Warcraft, they created so many vistas around the world, so many places and creatures that cause all but the most jaded of players to stop and gawp and marvel at the spectacle of it, to feel proud and content to have discovered and witnessed such a thing, and most importantly to have their desire to experience more fanned until it literally burns within them.

Whether it’s the first time seeing the library in Dire Maul (WoW), stumbling on Tom Bombadil’s house in the Old Forest (LotRO) or staring out over the tundra in Troll Country (WAR), feeling that sense of discovery and wonder is the driving force behind many of my adventures in these games.

I frequently find my own sense of adventure in direct conflict with the min/maxer attitude or the paint-by-numbers style of play.  Min/maxing is all well and good, but ultimately, I choose not to care.  More to the point, I like games where I can choose not to care with impunity.  Games like LotRO, where good gear is useful but not essential to progress fit the bill nicely as does most of WoW and WAR.

As for paint-by-numbers play, where every dungeon crawl gets reduced to the minimum number of twists and turns and the fewest fights and locales possible to get the maximum rewards, it is handy at times to play that way.  I still find myself wanting to go back to those dungeons not to kill the boss at the end but to take the left turn we keep avoiding or to see what’s in the room we didn’t enter the last time.  As part of my events officer position, I have set up runs of instances (called Exploration Runs) where we do exactly that.  We basically just wander around and gawp at things.

It’s a brilliant post and sums up quite well what it means to be an explorer and adventurer in MMOs.

Catharsis
I’ve been doing a fair bit of waffling lately about staying in WAR.  It’s a good game in many ways.  I love the world Mythic created out of the Warhammer lore.  Troll Country makes my list of most favorite zones in a game – up there with Mulgore in WoW and Dark Astoria in CoH.  The whole Chaos / Empire area is just beautiful.  Open RvR, when it happens, is very good.  Scenarios are alright.  In spite of many not liking the PvE, I don’t find it that bad (except for a lack of viable dungeons – I miss dungeon-crawling).

On the downside, open RvR doesn’t happen nearly enough.  The Witching event helped, but there was one critical flaw: it didn’t involve the keeps; the whole event was one big zerg across Troll Country.  Anyone trying to deal with the keeps, which are the actual fun part of those maps, got shouted down by players that just wanted to grind other players.  Because nothing says fun, apparently, like doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again until your eyes bleed.

After mulling it over a bit last night, I figured enough was enough.  I’m just a tourist in WAR with no particular feelings for or against the game.  I didn’t get caught up in the hype machine; WAR was just something to do until the Mines of Moria expansion hits in LotRO.  It’s time to go.  No hard feelings.  Nice game, but not for me.  Yeah, time to go.

But then something funny happened on the way to the exit …

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Tobolds had an interesting post today about guilds and raiding.  I started a reply comment but it ended up being rather long-winded so I thought I’d stick it here instead.  His argument, in summary, is that guilds should be a group of friends that like to play together and that raiding is another way of playing together:

A guild is a group of online friends who decided they want to play together. A raid is an opportunity for a larger number of guild members to play together, with the purpose of maximum fun, enabling a maximum number of them to advance their characters.

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… thus passes the dwarves of our lives.

Warhammer: Age of Reconing
I’m still playing around in WAR but not with the enthusiasm with which I had originally started out. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to focus on my Squig Herder on the Destruction side. Environment-wise, I love Order lands, particularly the Empire areas, but class-wise I’m liking the Squig Herder. In every game, I usually end up playing the short, funny race and a goblin SH is both. His “Ow, My Eye!” exclamation when I click on him is hilarious.

One thing Mythic must address is the issue of level differences: as the mean level of the server increases, the lower-level areas are emptying out. This phenomena happens in most games, but it’s a real problem in WAR for Open RvR and Public Quests – both of which rely on teams of people for any significant progression. Most of the PQs for my level are empty. I have to grind the mobs until the second phase where I have to abandon the PQ area until the reset. Open RvR has been rather off-putting in that most of the groups I’ve ended up in are disorganized PUGs with little to no coordination.

MMO Doom
MBP has an interesting discussion about WAR and MMOs in general. Several gamer / bloggers such as Melmoth and Tobolds are also leaving WAR. In spite of the prominence of some that are moving on, I think that WAR’s future is still bright. Its niche of gamers, PvP fans who like fantasy worlds in general or Warhammer in particular, will likely continue to flock to the game. I predict a million or so active subs shortly after the holidays – not close to WoW’s numbers but still a very successful MMO.

MBP’s discussion also touched on new development and whether a new developer creating an EQ– or WoW– like game would make their money back. I have to agree with him: I doubt it. The problem: it’s been done before. Making a plain old copy of the mechanics of EQ or WoW when added to an unknown or uninteresting IP are doomed to failure. An IP like Harry Potter, might stand a chance as a game marketed for much younger gamers but less famous ones will end up with problems.

What the industry needs is a company willing to stand up and take things in a different direction or at least figure out what of the “new” stuff in more recent games is worth having and bring it all together into a newer, more interesting conglomeration. The bad news is: the only company, that I can see anyway, with the talent, drive and resources to create such a game is Blizzard, and they’re too busy resting on their laurels with WoW. A Diablo or Starcraft MMO would be great if they built it differently from the ground up. Until then, I suspect there will be decreasing returns in investments in the MMO genre as a whole.

Lord of the Rings Online
On the LotRO front, I’ve been playing less as a result of my Warhammer escapades though I am still playing. I upgraded my LotRO account in preparation for the Mines of Moria expansion and am looking forward to seeing all the new goodies in store for my wee hobbit adventurer. My WAR adventures do come with a certain guilt about playing another game. I’m an officer in a kinship in LotRO and while I’m enjoying WAR I most definitely do not want to let my kinship mates down. The other officers were understanding about my break from LotRO, and I was happy to be back last night.

Also in regard to Moria, the NDA has lifted for those beta-testing the Moria expansion so expect to hear more news leaking out. Thus far, I have it from some beta testers in my kinship that:

– Classes like hunters and champs will have their damage adjusted upwards to fight the buffed mobs.
– Guardians will have improved defensive capabilities (though there is a problem with their aggro-generating skills in the current state of the beta).
– Rift and other raid gear will remain relevant for two or three levels into the expansion. It will not become immediately useless like WoW’s raid gear with The Burning Crusade expansion. Even then, expect gradual replacement of items – not a sudden realization that everything you’re wearing is useless.
– Early MoM content is very solo-friendly. None of the beta testers I spoke to complained about not being able to make some progress in the Mines even when alone.
– Moria is a gorgeous zone but it is also dark. Tip: Alt+F10 is the key to use your “personal torch.” It’s not really a torch but it increases the ambient lighting around your character so you can see better. There appear to be three light settings: off, dim, bright.

The info above was provided by a couple kinship mates so I don’t have personal experience with it (except for the torch thing which I knew about before *flex*). 😛

For those hungering for official news, check out the LotRO forum’s Dev Diaries page and see the dev diaries. Unfortunately, there isn’t a consolidated page of info but the dev diaries should give clues about the class changes, etc.

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