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.

 

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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


October 24, 2011

I am in one of my phases where I write up some game mechanics, then delete them for being too derivative.  So while I am doing work on the “Xmas Game” I do not know if I will actually get one finished.  In the mean time, some notes on games I have been playing and games I am looking forward to playing.

Star Wars the Old Republic Beta

Not much I can say here due to the NDA. Bioware did a short beta test just for testing the Oceanic connections and I was lucky enough to get an invite.  I am not regretting my pre-order from Amazon.

Lord of the Rings Online

Over the last year I have slowly levelled up a level 30-ish Guardian character in LOTRO.  Its a free-to-play game, but I did spend some cash on a mount and opening some questing zones.  While the Lord of the Rings lore is good, its very, very grindy.  Two points stand out here: advanced combat abilities that are only learned after you have used a basic combat ability a few hundred/thousand times, and the crafting system, where you effectively have to relearn prior tiers of skill in order to master each new tier.  Tactically, the levelling game is more interesting the World of Warcraft, as failure is quite possible if you attack on elite mob or pull too many trash mobs.  I only tried an instance once, and the combination of inability to generate multi-target threat combined with rapid mob respawns turned me off trying again.  After playing the SWTOR Beta, I don’t think I’ll be spending more time in LOTRO.

Dragon Age (tabletop)

My once a fortnight tabletop campaign continues, with the players having reached Level Six.  In the last session, they ran into an interesting moral challenge and my amoral mage jumped a different way from that which I was expecting (he refused to take the Red Book of Monsters from the time-shifted Ebon Tower after a fragment of a God told the party the book could be used to summon monsters that could sunder the world).

Some quirks in the game engine are now becoming apparent.  By Level 10 a character will have at least doubled their health from Level 1, if not tripled it, as well as improving the ability to avoid being hit and to mitigate incoming damage … but their outgoing damage will only have increased by about 1d6 per round.  So against a similar group of “heroes” the chances are that a combat would take an entire game session to resolve.

The Rogue class is annoying, as in each and every combat round they have to make an opposed bluff check in order to gain an attack bonus and 1d6 damage.  Without the bonus damage the Rogue is not competitive in damage dealing.  The extra die roll each round is time consuming.

Mages are annoying, definitely glass cannons, which makes them either overpowered or vulnerable.  If an NPC mage uses a crowd control spell, they can eliminate a player character from an entire combat (which means a bored player), but in return solo enemy mages are not viable as foes – they simply cannot survive without a small horde of minions to intercept/disrupt the players.

My rough rule of thumb now, is that for an enemy to concern my players, it needs to do a minimum of 6d6 damage per combat round (after accounting for missed attacks and armour absorption), otherwise the fact that the party mages can pump out 6d6 healing per round means most combats end with the players on full health.  While I have given out the odd health/mana potion, I don’t think anyone has ever had to use one of them.

Still, the core engine still appeals to me and I am tinkering with reworking it into a SF setting – I am mucking around with ideas for Sidhe, Fomorians and Stargate style Egyptian monsters all turning Earth into a post-apocalyptic setting, with some bright ultra-tech human colonies out in space.

World of Tanks

This is an online “lobby” game, consisting of 15 minute player versus player matches in which each of the 30 players controls one World War II era tank.  Between matches you repair and research.  The tank capabilities and vulnerabilities seem faithful to history, although there are a few fantasy tanks in play which never got off the design board and onto the historical battle fields.  At the moment tanks are limited to US, Russian, and German designs, although I expect we will eventually see British and French designs as well.  The game has been sufficiently successful that we can expect to see World of Planes and World of Ships in a couple of years.

I chose to play Russian tanks, and have slowly worked my way up to my first heavy tank, the KV.  Unlike my previous tanks, its slow, really slow, and the turret is also a slow traverser.  Historically, it was a killer when it ran into German Panzer IIs and IIIs, but in WoT I am as likely to run into Tiger IIs and IS-4s, which I can’t really damage and which can one shot me in return.  Tactically, rather than moving constantly at max speed as you do with light tanks, the KV needs to work in formation with other tanks to avoid being flanked and also needs to skulk from bit of cover to bit of cover.  Out in the open its easily spotted and immobilised by artillery.

Overall, I find WoT to be a really good way to spend 30-60 minutes of spare time.  It also goes well with listening to some heavy metal music.

World of Warcraft – Firelands

My guild has lost two DPS players (rogue/hunter) but continues to raid.  We managed 6/7 boss kills before the content was nerfed, then 7/7 shortly afterwards and are now 1/7 for hard modes.  I’m not sure the content nerf was good for us.  We do not have the throughput in DPS/HPS for many of the hard mode fights, but now the normal mode fights are so trivial as to be boring.

What we tend to do now, is spend two hours wiping on hard modes on Thursday night, then clear up to 5/7.  On Monday we go back and kill the last two, and as we get better at killing Ragnaros we use our remaining time on Tier 11 hard modes.  On Sundays I lead a casual raid, but it is struggling as several of the players there simply cannot meet the DPS requirements – we need 15k DPS and they do 10k – the fights take too long and our healers run out of mana, or the time delay makes the wheels fall off and the fight becomes a train wreck.

I am happy with my Holy Paladin healing, I managed to rank sixth in class in World of Logs for healing the fat fire spider Beth’tilac in the second week of Firelands.  Considering how Paladins 1-6 were all in Tier 11 Hard Mode gear I was pretty chuffed with the accomplishment.  My Retibution Paladin DPS though … it sucks, hovering around 12k for most fights, although on a static tank and spank it can reach 18k.  Part of the reason the DPs is low is that because I do not enjoy it, I don’t practice it.  I’m not sure why I don’t enjoy it but there are two bits of the play style I struggle with: use of cooldowns and proc dependence.

It’s hard for me not to agree with Gevlon over at the Greedy Goblin, that the sheer complexity of the “Boss Dance” in fights is making raiding less fun.  This is especially the case for melee damage dealers in any fight with significant movement, as the loss of contact time on the boss reduces DPS.  It is a never-ending race, in which Blizzard alternates between buffing classes with new abilities, then upping the difficulty of new fights.  In patch 4.3 we are being promised a buff to melee DPS … but I have to say as a raid leader, I have no desire to recruit more melee DPS into the raid group because unless their player skill is exceptional.

Over at Blessing of Kings, a comparison of a Wrath era fight and a Cataclysm era was posted to illustrate this point:(http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2011/09/firelands-nerfs-and-difficulty.html)

Marrowgar:

  • One mob
  • Tanks stack on each other to split damage
  • Avoid fire
  • Dodge bonestorm
  • Kill bonespikes

Shannox:

  • Three mobs
  • Dodge traps
  • Burst one add with large spells
  • Heal one random target who takes high damage
  • Trap and kite one add until a stacking debuff wears off, failing this increases tank damage
  • Avoid aoe spear damage
  • Damage increases significantly as fight progresses

What I would prefer, is a few more fights that stretch my ability to play my class well, as opposed to how well I have memorised the exact dance steps for the special mechanics on a boss fight.  My own feedback on class design for the next expansion was “less is more”.

On the whole though, I think Blizzard made a serious mistake in Cataclysm by making two of the tier end bosses be recycled bosses from Vanilla WoW (Nefarian & Onyxia, and Ragnaros).  Yes, the fight mechanics are different … but it still felt like a failure of imagination to me by the Blizzard design team.

Upcoming Games

Games I am looking forward to include: Star Wars the Old Republic (December), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (11 November), and the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft (2012).

For information on SWTOR I recommend the http://torwars.com/ fan site.  My Sith PvE guild is now part of the Oceanic “daisychain”, a collaborative effort to ensure as many ANZAC players as possible all end up on the same starting server.

Guild Wars 2 is attempting to eliminate the holy trinity, so all characters will have heal/dps options.  Defences will include active dodging by the players, and if you “die” you actually get a different set of combat options while knocked down.  Could be a quality of life improvement, but it might be a much stronger evolution of the genre than SWTOR is shaping up to be (several press reviews describe SWTOR as WoW with lightsabres).

I preordered Skyrim after watching some gameplay videos, especially of combat versus dragons.  It looks like combat is very sandbox, many different ways to solve each tactical problem.  I enjoyed the other Elder Scrolls games, so this will fill the gap until SWTOR is released.

Mists of Pandaria will be an oriental themed expansion for WoW.  I know a few people have gone “WTF! Panda!”  but last time I looked WoW had already jumped the shark (the Goblin starter area has a quest involving sharks with laser beams mounted on them).  I’ll be happy with MOP if I can dress my virtual dolls in Samurai armour.

Probably the most significant announcement was a complete rebuild of the talent system, rather than spending points every few levels to boost power and access new abilities, many abilities will be granted with class spec, and talents will be a choice of one of three options every 15 levels.  When you hit 30, you can’t go back and choose a second Level 15 option, as each set of options will compare like with like, you are unlikely to be forced to choose between utility or survival or throughput.  I like the sound of this new system … fits with my “less is more” preference.

Wowhead already has a talent calculator preview available at: http://www.wowhead.com/mists-of-pandaria-talent-calculator