World of Warcraft


As I mentioned previously, the companion system in Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is one of its best features.  Some of the functionality of companions should be familiar to people who have played a pet class in WoW or LotRO: the “pet” is a separate toon that follows the player around and attacks the target the player is attacking.  Pets add damage, healing or crowd-control / tanking to combat situations the player gets into and makes fights more survivable.

The primary role of a companion in SWTOR isn’t that much different.  They fight alongside your toon and act as tanking,healing or damage to help you take down baddies.  But they do a lot more than just fight beside you.

While I could wax poetic about the coolness of Bioware’s companions, they have already waxed poetically in pixel form for you.

I won’t go into too much detail about companions here then, I’ll just mention some of the highlights I like.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here, obviously.  I’ve debated whether or not to just close up shop with an official blog fade and be done with it or try to muddle through somehow.  While my interests in life are many, my interest in MMO gaming has dwindled.  I’ve been playing LotRO off and on and actually returned to WoW for a bit too.  The thing is: I really don’t have much to say about either game.  Turbine continues its history of near-but-not-quite-excellence which keeps players believing that some great stuff is possible in the game but never managing to deliver; and WoW is, well, still WoW.  Blizzard has made some solid game changes, screwed up some minor stuff here and there and still presents itself as the 800 lb gorilla in the room.

While I could find some things to babble about to fill up page spaces, it’s really nothing that hasn’t been said before and nothing I feel like proof-reading (and publishing, and realizing all the stuff I still screwed up, and going back and fixing it, and getting comments on the stuff I fixed because I didn’t save it right the first time … and well, you get the idea) again.

So rather than close up shop, I’ll be mentioning more of my out-of-MMO-land interests and having fewer posts related to WoW or LotRO or whatever other MMOs I may bumble into from time to time.

My hobbit burglar has been 65 for a while now.  I took a shot at the end game activities and decided it wasn’t my thing.  Grinding Sword Halls repeatedly for the tokens to save for armor is dull, dull, dull.  Sadly Turbine falls into the same trap as many MMOs and assumes that grinding the same old stuff is somehow epic.   Even the hardest fights I’ve seen in an MMO (in WoW’s Blackwing Lair*) became trivial once learned and after a short time they become a choreographed dance.   Step and turn and twist and shoot and everybody out of the fire and one and two and whelps and … blah.

I’ve changed gears a bit lately.  I am playing my hobbit hunter (currently 49) and my human guardian (currently 45) a bit more.  Also, I’ve been spending less time online in general.  I’ve been reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – an interesting read thus far  – and watching way too many You Tube clips.

In other news, I’ve got some friends in some upcoming MMOs of interests.  More than a couple friends have been trying out Star Trek Online.  Reviews have been mixed, but as a new MMO and something set in science fiction and not my usual fantasy, I thought I might give it a go.

And that’s what’s going on.

* Not that there aren’t harder fights currently than BWL but that was the pinnacle when I was raiding and is as far as I’ve gotten.

There’s an interesting article in RPG Vault recently about addictive gaming.

It’s a tricky thing to define, but I’ll take a crack at it. A design is addiction-based to the degree that it encourages players to experience the same content again and again (often referred to as grinding) in return to obtain a series of rewards. These can be simple labels with no tangible effect (like an in-game title or some achievements), or they can be character improvements that give the ability to move on to a new location with a slightly different sort of grinding. I call this the grind/reward cycle, and it can keep players coming back to one game for years.

One key aspect of this design is that it gives many small rewards instead of a few big ones, so that the player is receiving constant positive reinforcement. A classic example is the style of skill improvement in World of Warcraft and EverQuest. When you gain a level, your skills don’t go up five points. Instead, your maximum goes up that much, and then the skill itself increases with use, a point at a time. Splitting up the reward into many parts increased the number of reinforcements.

The majority of games classified as MMOs these days adhere to a greater or lesser extent to addition-based game play.  Do x until you get y, then move on to z.  Repeat.  Sadly, games don’t seem to deviate much from that pattern.  Star Wars: The Old Republic seems to be attempting to move to a more story-based model.  Whether or not it’s successful, only time will tell (the game isn’t even in alpha yet).

Like the author, I’d love to see more options in games.  One gripe I’ve had with LotRO is their new-found gear-centeredness.  Like WoW, LotRO seems to be heading towards making players loot-crazy to keep them playing.  LotRO’s problem is they can’t make the instances interesting.  Rather than becoming loot-crazy, players are taking extended breaks until the next content expansion or leaving for other games once they hit the cap (that seems to be the general pattern I’ve noticed, anyway).  Personally, I’d like to see more community-based activities in MMOs … I mean, we play MMOs to play with other players so encouraging players to work with each other doesn’t seem like a bad way to go.  I don’t mean that forced grouping should become the norm, but it would be neat to encourage players in other ways (clever game design pushing them into proximity, better and varied PvP activities, trading-card type games where players can interact, etc.).

New models of “addictive game play” may help the industry out of its current rut.

I was having a discussion on Ventrilo the other day with some folks in my LotRO kinship.  We were lamenting the roughness of the LotRO end-game and were talking about some of the hurdles different IP-based games are having.  (That is to say, games based on a third-party IP – technically, all games are based on someone’s IP.

Blizzard owns the IP related to WoW.  So if they want to add space-ships or player-controlled flying mounts, the lore folks just say it’s possible and then it’s up to the software folks to make it happen.  There’s almost nothing standing in the way of a gaming possibility, the lore creators just have to figure out the story behind it and then it’s ready to be built into the game.

Turbine does not own the IP behind its LotRO game, Tolkien Estates does.  Everything in the game Turbine build has to conform to the lore as Tolkien imagined it.  There are exceptions (like the number of adventuring hobbits running around) but the places, the overall feel of the game and many of the character names and abilities are limited by the IP.  As such, players cannot be wizards (there are only a handful in Tolkien’s world), players cannot ride eagles (riding eagles is a rare privilege); the lore curtails many of the possibilities in an online world in favor of sticking with a set, third-party IP.

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I’m still alive over here.  I haven’t posted in a bit as real life has reared its non-pixilated head and I’ve been working quite a bit.

On the game front, I’m still playing LotRO but have reduced the amount of time I’ve been playing.  Part of my play time reduction has been work-related but part has been due to game play.  The current crop of hard mode “end game” instances doesn’t appeal to me at all.  I also don’t care for the gated content of the Watcher raid.  In Shadows of Angmar, players could play with their friends.  Gear seemed less important than trait selections and a little skill so a raid that was short a minstrel could just grab another one without too much concern.  Nowadays, I see things like “LF minstrel, must have 50 radiance or better.”  50 radiance can only be gotten by equipping 5 items (+10 radiance each), which in turn means 5 hard mode runs at a minimum.  Turbine often flits with a fine line between “epic” and “tedious” and for the MoM end game instances, I’ve found very little epic about them.  Some of them I like (Fil Gashan or the Grand Stairs) but most I could do without.

The sad thing is that I can see the strains forming in my kinship.  Those who went all-out to get through the six-man instances are chomping at the bit to down the Watcher.  Those of us that are taking our time or don’t particularly care about the six-mans are getting left further and further behind.  Friends can’t group up with friends anymore without also asking how much radiance gear they have.  I’ve seen this before in WoW’s Burning Crusade and have no desire to repeat that kind of loot-centric game play in LotRO.  There’s a lot of chatter on the blog-u-sphere lately about community building.  While there are a lot of things games can do to foster community, I’m pretty sure one of them isn’t wedging gear requirements in-between friends.

My burglar is level 60, has well-enough armor and weapons and has his talents maxed out.  So, other than the occasional rep grind, there’s little else for me to do in LotRO until book 8.  I have some alts which I play occasionally but without other people my level to play with, alts don’t interest me that much.

In other news, some friends of mine who left LotRO resurfaced in WoW on a new server so I re-upped my WoW account to play with them there.  Together, we rolled a small group (warrior, priest, and hunter) and are having a blast with the small-group stuff WoW has to offer.  For giggles, we also all rolled gnome Death Knights.  Hilarity ensued.

Gnomes dance while waiting for a respawn

Now is the time in the Ebon Hold when we dance.

In addition to my warrior and new death knight, I’ve also created a dwarf paladin.  My how things have changed!  I recall when seals only lasted seconds.  Now they’ll last thirty minutes unless you do a judgment on them.  They seem to have lengthened the amount of time the blessings last as well.

While I haven’t given up on LotRO and plan on heading back, my game vacation in Azeroth has been a lot of fun.

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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