Choke Points and Broken Quest Chains

March 16, 2014

CratesThis is a picture of a choke point in a low level quest. We’re waiting for a crate to spawn. Sometimes when the crate spawns, it does not contain the mook we are looking for.  When it does have the mook we want, only one of us gets the credit for quest completion. It can take up to two hours of crate camping to complete the quest.  At the level you get this quest, there are no other quests you can do safely (they are orange or red difficulty).  In my feedback on this I noted that this is not compelling gameplay.

So, much as I wanted to play some more TESO this weekend, I’m found it hard going with numerous broken quest chains.  I wanted to try playing a Dragonknight Imperial with sword & shield.  I emerged out of the introduction quest with only a sword, and some skimpy light armour.  Maybe there was a shield somewhere, but I didn’t find it.  But wandering around in a dress without a shield did not make me feel heroic.  Still, a nice touch for the armour was that it had broken handcuffs attached.

A recent design decision was to ditch the introductory island zones in favour of starting people in a town, but this means you don’t have any crafting materials ready when you find the workstations, and you have little coin for buying anything … like say a shield.  On the plus side, without the hand holding, you get the opportunity to explore the world in any direction you like (although eventually all roads led to a wayshrine for resurrection)

The Imperials do look like a strong choice for a tank playstyle, with an experience bonus to sword and shield and other racials that boost health.  Visually they were pretty bland, the design screen was so dark I couldn’t discern a difference in their hair, eye or skin colours.

The white horse mount from the Imperial edition is functional, but fades away at the first sign of damage.  Mounting/dismounting still has that awkward pause from Skyrim, and is cumbersome for NPC interaction.  Collision detection is on now, which means you can’t barge through NPCs – but its still fine to run right through other PCs (if PC collisions were enabled I would bet money that packs of Trolls would lock down key NPCs and quest locations so they were unuseable).

Once you have played through the tutorial, you get an option to skip it on future characters, starting at level 3. I appreciate this … almost wish it would repeat with the mage/fighter guild quest chains.

So with the Dragonknight locked out, I decided to try a Nord Templar with two-handed weapons (again a 15% xp racial bonus).  Where the Dragonknight has a pull ability, the Templar has charge and push away abilities.  I like this mobility, charge someone, push them away, charge them again!  It also has access to a set of healing abilities, so I may just have found the combination of Warrior/Paladin abilities from WoW that I have wished for in a character.  Definitely a fun feeling, and its going to be a hard choice choosing that initial character.

Another annoying bug is when the Escape key stops working. Pressing full stop (.) key seems to help here.  My other tip for taking screenshots is to bind UI On/Off to a key (I used U).

StrifeThis screenshot is of a nice formation of rocks. Wandering up to it I discovered an interesting travel back in time to learn some lore/summon some Daedra quest. Which was a lot of fun until … it bugged out halfway through.  I wandered on down the road some more, and quickly found myself in a zone where the mobs killed me easily (two mobs of 2+ greater levels when you don’t have an ultimate ability yet is asking for trouble). Unlike WoW, Rifts, or SWTOR, you can’t just go and grind mobs to level up when the quests are broken.  Quests and exploration are your main sources of experience, so when every single damn quest chain is bugged, you’re screwed for progression.  Lets hope these get fixed before release, but with less than a month to go I’m focusing on keeping realistic expectations – which is to say that when TESO falls over I will be happy log out to play WoW or World of Tanks until the broken is repaired.

 


The Elder Scrolls Online Beta

March 9, 2014

My impressions of the Elder Scrolls Online game, based on two beta weekends.  TLDR, some frustrations, some interesting decisions, I think I will have fun playing this for a month or two.

Downloading

Takes up ~27 GB, but I needed ~50 GB free to successfully complete the installation.

Character Creation

Main choices to make here are name, class, race, gender, faction, and appearance.

Name – this is a mega server, trying to get a unique name is going to be hard. The first dozen or so of my standard MMORPG names were all taken.

There are four classes. I only played Sorcerer and Nightblade in beta, so my knowledge of the other two options is limited.

  • Dragonknight (Melee – has a pull the mob to you ability like a WoW Death Knight’s Death Grip)
  • Sorcerer (Mage – can summon pets)
  • Nightblade (Thief/Assassin – can stealth)
  • Templarknight (Melee/healer)

Appearance – Okay. Mostly I’m interested in hair styles when it comes to appearances, and there were enough for me to have fun choosing.

Race – unless you pre-order your race will determine your faction. This can be important as racial bonuses are strong, and a min-max character will have to be of the “right” race for max bonus. I ignore this and just make something I like the look of (usually elves with white or red hair in fantasy MMORPGs, although the lizards/cat skins are tempting).Bosmer Bonus

Gender – no difference in gameplay.

Faction – choose one of three. Pre-ordering will let you play any race in any faction, and play the Imperial race (if you order the Imperial edition). This could be useful if your friends want to play a different fcation.

Character Development in Play

Elder Scrolls is the complete reverse of the direction WoW has taken in terms of character development. WoW has made it very hard to make a character who is functionally bad at their core role (Tank, Heal, DPS), in Elder Scrolls its possible to make decisions about skills and attributes that make your character a painful failure by level 10. Unless you like repeating starter zones over and over again, spending some time thinking about your skill point allocation is critical.

  • You want five, and no more than five, good active abilities.
  • Having a mix of magicka and stamina using abilities might be useful to start with, but I’m not sure if long-term you want to focus on one or the other
  • You want one, and no more than one, long cooldown ability
  • After that, Passives rule
  • At level 15 you can pick up a second weapon, that can be swapped easily, at that point you can start picking up some different abilities

The armour choice is also interesting. Light armour makes movement easier and is good for resource regeneration.  Medium armour is good for boosting damage. Heavy armour is good for absorbing damage.  No armour restrictions, mage in heavy armour, sure can.Armour Buff

You get skill points from:

  • Levelling
  • Finishing some quests (I think)
  • Collecting sets of three skyshards (found in the world, one use only, fixed location – you will spend the game with a webpage open with all their locations bookmarked)

Tutorial Mission (level 1-3)

This is done pretty quickly, and is the start of the main storyline that will take you to level 50.  Its quick and does the job it needs to.Tutorial Zone

Starter Zone (Level 3-5)

Both of the starter zones I have done have been Islands. Not too big, easy to get around, and finished in a couple of hours. Storylines were reasonably engaging, and I felt sad when a village got attacked and NPCs I had talked to were killed. You can sneak and one shot most enemies here with a bow.

First major zone (Level 5-15)

Compared to the starter zone this is huge, even after 12 hours I was only just over halfway through the zone. Mobs get harder, and are more often encountered in groups of 2-3. Although for my Bosmer archer, sneak shot, DOT, poison arrow, finisher usually works, and if I get lots of mobs, the Storm Astronach handles it. Killing a single mob in four key presses feels about right to me, a nice change from SWTOR where killing a pair of mobs could take 30+ key presses.

All up I think levelling to 50 is supposed to be around 400 hours of game play. After that there are Level 50 versions of instances, for around 150 hours of gameplay. At 50 you can also play through the other faction zones. After that its eternal pvp. Unless the “Adventure Zones” turn out to be some kind of long term PVE content, this will be a game to date, not a game to marry. While you won’t get new levels, skill development can continue, and there will be something called “Veteran Points” that improve the charcter by small increments. Or you could re-roll and try a different build of character. I think I just want to play one character, experience from WoW and SWTOR tells me that there are rapidly diminishing enjoyment returns from alts going through similar content.a

The Social Experience
About what you would expect,  lots of people saying bad things about other MMORPGs, lots of people with toons named after WoW references.  Not immediately obvious how to interact with people, you can’t click on them, you have to look at them and push F key.  You can belong to five guilds at the same time (why you would want to do this escapes me).  You gain a 10% experience buff while grouped with other players.  I did not bother joining a guild, and only grouped with people while in public dungeons.  Reporting people, you get the option to choose a general category, e.g. harrassment, a sub-category, e.g. bad language, and can attach a screenshot and write a text description. I reported someone for making a joke about anal rape.

With NPCs, you can get Persaude skill from joining the Mages guild and Intimidate skill from joining the Fighter’s guild, this gives you some options to resolve or resolve more quickly some quests.  I would hesitate to spend skill points on this before getting my five active abilities and ultimate ability set up.Persuasion

Looting, Harvesting, Inventory and Crafting
The default for looting is a two click interaction for each corpse.  Hit ESC for menu, then go into Settings/Gameplay, and make sure combined loot and autoloot are ON. That will save a few hours of your life. While you can vendor all the weapons and armour that drops, you can also reverse engineer everything for raw materials (but you need to be at a work station in a town, and not all towns had all work stations, and travelling back to town is painfully slow).  Harvesting – while there are no wasted inventory slots on picks and knives, the ability to harvest everything means your bags fill with crap quickly.  Inventory – 60 slots feels limited.  The first town after the tutorial zone will have a vendor who sells +10 inventory slots for 400 coins and +10 more slots for 2000. The other way to manage inventory is to just to not gather stuff ( I stopped picking flowers and mining).

You can spend skill points to improve harvesting, and I spent a point on making wood glow, as the grey/green log on the ground was really easy to miss.Harvesting

Bank – available in some towns, you can craft directly from banks, so you want to dump crafting mats here.

Crafting: moderately complex, potentially a huge time sink to research everything (six hour cooldown per trait type per equipment type), but at low levels is relatively easy to make armour and weapons that are useful upgrades.  My first bow using toon did not get a bow drop or quest reward in eight levels, so making my own bow upgrade every two levels was very useful.  There are lots of crafting stations hidden around the world where you can craft gear and have a small chance of unique abilities.

Movement

Movement – the teleport system is EXPENSIVE, really, really freaking EXPENSIVE. When mobs drop one coin each, and teleporting to the other side of the zone costs 64 coins.  Don’t expect you friends to come and hold your hands every few minutes in the starter zones.  Mounts are also freaking expensive at 17,200 to 42,700 coins for a horse.  That makes the Imperial edition perk of a cheap mount quite attractive. Tactical movement felt fine, and sprinting for a stamina cost was an interesting mechanic.

Exploration

Its significant xp when you reach a new landmark on the map, feels equal to a quest, so its well worth a quick trip sideways.  For the mages guild, finding books increases your rank.  You can also find random chests, and the lock picking mini game is fun (there was one thief style quest early on, but no immediate invite to join a Thieve’s Guild, but a hint one would come down the track).

Books

Mage Rank

Lock Picks

Stress test beta

It was a stress test, so not perfect, but that’s part of the beta experience.

  • lots of UI bugs
  • a few crashes, followed by long in failures
  •  lots of bugged quest chains, and as there are so few quest chains, its easy to run out of content that your character can engage with
  • load times were reasonable, but if you crashed out once you crashed out a dozen times in a row
  • /reloadui command is essential to actually complete some NPC conversation interactions, as your character gets stuck at the end of the conversation
  •  Falling through the world, happened a couple of times on stairs.Beta

User Interface

Not a lot of customisation options here, but the default setting had the UI fade away when not targeting mobs, which helped immersion.  Five active abilities, one long cooldown ability, one quickbar slot … 7 buttons to push during combat, after having 60 keybinds in WoW and SWTOR this was a relief.  Compass at the top of the screen, more compact than minimap, but it takes getting used to. It felt a bit less cluttered than the one in Skyrim.Combat UI

Questing

  • NPCs can be phased to you, so they run up to you when you complete a section of the chain, kinda needed given how slow strategic movement is
  • Quest hubs are rare, you tend to find one NPC quest giver at a time
  • Mage/Fighter’s guild – You cannot afford not to be in these guilds, as they have major questlines and useful abilities associated with them
  • More than a few quests involve intrigue and betrayal
  • You get a lot of quests way before your character could ever hope to do them, both geographically or mechanically in game
  •  I had one stealth quest spawn a mob that was much higher level and killed me in a few seconds, damn it was annoying
  •  I had another combat quest which I could not solo, as while I could kite and stay alive, I could not do the burst damage required to finish the boss before it triggered a regeneration
  •  Collect X quests tend to be limited to collecting 3-6 of an item, and Kill X Rats quests are pretty rare
  • Some of the novelty quests are bugged or can’t be reasonably completed (a running race around an island, which you can’t actually complete in the time granted without a very high stamina score or massive stamina regen).

Dungeons

Its really hard to feel suspense or fear in a public dungeon when there are dozens of toons sprinting past you hacking the monsters into gibbets.

Sound
Some nice voice acting, music is okay.  NPCs are fully voiced, you are not, you can fast pace through dialogue conversations.Conversation


Starwars Beta Test Impressions

November 20, 2011

The NDA has been lifted, so I can write about my Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR) beta experiences.

To sum up: it’s great fun for what it is, but don’t expect radical differences from other themepark MMORPGs already on the market.

I took part in the Oceanic test, which I think was specifically to test how the game worked with latency and lag out to places like Australia and New Zealand.  I don’t think the servers were too stressed out by the number of players we had taking part, but overall I had no problems with latency/lag.  Latency in general was  lower than I usually see in WoW.

I only played a Jedi Consular, taking the Sage (healer) advanced class at level 10.  After the starter zone on Tython, I went to Coruscant and then Taris, completing all those zones, before logging out in Nar Shaddaa.  In play, it was a little like a WoW Paladin who also had substantial ranged DPS and crowd control options.  Certainly by Level 15 I felt that the healer talents I had chosen were making a big difference.  What was awesome though, was that even as a healer I could complete quests as easily as a damage dealing class thanks to the companion system.

The Good

I’m counting down the days to when I get to play the game again.

Opening sequence.  You get the classic star wars yellow scrolling text, then a cut away of a ship landing scene, unique for each class, and it felt very cinematic.

Music.  Its great, very star wars, and I love the way it swells up when you engage mobs.  Audio, lightsabres went snap hiss and blasters went pew-pew-pew the way you would expect them to.

Companions.  As a consular I picked up a “lizard” who was part of a mystic cult of hunters, so when I went healer, it developed into a tank.  The AI is smart enough that your companions will not break your crowd control, it’ll kill all the other mobs first, then wait patiently for the CC to expire or for an attack order.  The default AI settings were pretty good.  At level 20 I was able to engage a world boss with over six times my combined health (companion + me) and defeat it after a fight lasting several minutes. Given that I accidentally pulled the boss when I used a Force Wave talent that bounces enemy mobs away from me, and it took me a minute to realise what was happening, I thought that was really cool.

Class story quests.  I found the storyline engaging, although I stayed to complete all quests I could find in a zone before moving onto a new world.  The moment when you craft your first lightsabre is very good.  The large chunk of class-specific quests means that there is a lot of replay value for second and subsequent characters.

Visuals.  Worlds were pretty.  I liked the feel of post-apocalyptic Taris, a good moment for anyone who played the first KOTOR game.

Gear modification.  With upgrades it was possible to keep your best low level items for quite a long time, rather than upgrading them a few levels later.

The Galactic Republic is so corrupt it made me laugh.  Almost every Senator or officer I ran into was on the take somehow.

Combat. No auto-attacks, but the system seems good at turning to face when you execute an attack.  Past level ten I would engage normal mobs at 5:1 odds without blinking, a nice heroic feel.

Jedi force powers … from time to time the game system would let you do things that were not in your standard ability list, like giving you a dialogue option for force persuasion or force lifting a broken door.  That and the republican mooks tend to go “Oh thank God, a Jedi, we’re saved!”

Voice acting, I only hit space bar to fast forward through the voice acting a few times.  Mostly excellent, I did find a few stock phrases grating after a couple of days.

Mob Grinding Quests are optional.  Most of the “Kill Ten Stormtrooper” quests trigger when you start in a zone, but are not essential to finishing the main story quest.  I like this feature a lot.  Still, if you do complete all the kill quests, there is usually a nice reward at the end of it.

The Bad

No macros, no addons at launch.  Maybe later.

Starship combat is “on rails” rather than being in a full 3D environment.  Its been compared to Starfox.  That said, its completely ignorable as the quests are optional and it can be a fun way to pass time while waiting.

The default text is a light blue on a dark blue background, and its tiny.  I stopped reading fluff text because it was too hard on my eyes.

Flashpoints (instances/dungeons) were hard.  When you become eligible for the quests, you simply were not powerful enough for them.  Both the Esselles and Bringing Down the Hammer were awful wipe fests for the groups I tried them with.  The Hammer in particular had a boss fight on par with the difficulty of Cataclysm 5 mans in WoW (the boss had three different mechanics that would wipe you: adds, direct special attack, plus a random aoe attack) which I found impossible to heal – people simply died before I could complete the targeting/casting sequence – and I know I’m not a scrub when it coms to heals (I once made sixth for Heals-per-Second in World of Logs for my paladin).

Crafting is stuck in the old “make a thousand things no one wants” model to grind up towards the skill cap.  On the plus side, your companions will farm for you, and can craft or carry out gathering missions for you while you do other things.  The weird bit, the crafter on board your ship can only craft from the mats your character carries, and the crafted item appears in your bags, not back on board the ship.

The Ugly

For five man content, the UI is pretty much what you had in Vanilla WoW back in 2005.  For tanks/damage dealers, this is okay, for healers its going to be a world of pain as you slowly click to target the person you want to heal, then click the heal you want to use.  Compared to the one click healing of state-of-the art healer addons in games like WoW … it sucks sharp flinty ones, and is a major reason why I will not turn my Sith Inquisitor into a healer at launch.

That said, I did not get a chance to play with the raidframes, which look better in the gameplay videos I have watched.

Testing

It was fun filling out bug reports, not too much else I can say.  I look forward to seeing my fellow testers in the game once it goes live.