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