Quick Notes: Hew’s Bane, EQ Next & Wildstar

Hew’s Bane and Abah’s Landing

Yesterday’s guild evening began shortly after the news of Everquest Next’s cancellation broke, and i’m happy to report that we’ve been four players with two “regulars” missing- one sick, the other one surely on some other task, otherwise i know she would have been there. So my fears didn’t come true and we’re not out of our rhythm. The entry into the Thieves Guild DLC proved to be so exciting that i didn’t think of taking screenshots, so i can’t do a “Travel Log” yet. But as someone who hasn’t stolen one thing since it became illegal in Elder Scrolls Online and someone who avoids playing rogue-type characters at all costs, i can tell you it was huge fun. Sneaking into houses and stealing stuff in Elder Scrolls Online reminds me very much at The Secret World’s sabotage missions- only, it’s better, because your steps make sounds people can hear and i feel the reactions of the NPCs are more…realistic, somewhat. In the few sabotage missions i did in TSW i felt as if i was trying to avoid MMO mechanics- aggro range, for instance. In ESO, it feels much more like sneaking around. There’s also always the price at the end and, of course, whatever you care to steal on your way.

Great that you'll earn a costume by completing the first quest
Great that you’ll earn a costume by completing the first quest

Of course, being four people doing these missions, we were often seen and we haven’t managed to do even one mission without killing someone, but it was fun anyway and i’m happy to see this DLC being one i’ll be eager to play as soon as i’ll return from china.

I’ll probably write more about that, but i’d like to take a quick stab at why i think ESO will still be my number one MMO come april, regardless of how i feel about BDO: it’s because of me. I tried to cover that in my earlier post– if i were the same person i was four or five years ago, it would be Black Desert all the way. And i can understand the many, many positive impressions people have- i’m the same. But despite it offering almost everything, there’s something missing that i’m still finding in ESO- i guess it is about “connection”, or attachement. In ESO, i feel a connection to my character and the world and i miss that in Black Desert. Maybe that will change, maybe i should pay more attention to that black spirit thing, but right now, this is how i feel. I can still see BDO playing a huge role in my game rotation this year.

Everquest Next’s cancellation & Wildstar layoffs

I’m going to be brief here, because two months ago, when Ironweakness and i were planning our continuation of the Dual Wielding-thing, we set up two topics: negativity in the MMORPG community and the second one, to be posted on tuesday, about the future of the genre. Obviously, the cancellation of Everquest Next and the layoffs at Carbine will make an impression in that post. Suffice to say, i wasn’t really surprised, we kind of expected exactly the cancellation of the game to be the next thing we heard about it, as the silence before was deafening. So, remember my old blog, Party Business? I fired it up with the coming reveal of EQ Next, and i started it up with the intention to topically cover my search for a new MMO home i expected to find either in EQ Next, the Repopulation or ArcheAge. Great. One is now cancelled, the second one needs to move to a new engine and the third one was killed by its publisher and developer.

Gallows

For the Carbine layoffs, i feel sorry for the people affected and do hope they’ll find new jobs soon. But it’s also not really unexpected. The revenue numbers weren’t very good, even shortly after the transition to f2p and they’ll probably go down from there. I really kind of expect Wildstar to be the next big shutdown, maybe even as soon as this year. I think one reason for why it hasn’t already happened is that NC Soft knows full well that its popularity suffered under the closures of Tabula Rasa and City of Heroes. They don’t want to shut this one down, but in the end, they will. But this is just my guess.

So the genre? Commenters on Massively Overpowered seem to think it’s entering its grimdark times now. I both agree and (strongly) disagree- more on that on tuesday.

The Division

I can’t tell you much about that one yet- as said, i had a quiet week and have only reached my base of operations. I like it, but i was shocked to see that my pc doesn’t seem to fulfill the requirements. I can play, but i have to turn down the graphics by quite some degree. I’m not used to that- my pc is four years old and i started to notice that i just can’t put everything on “highest” since about a year or so, but having to put it on “low to medium” hurts. Still, it’s fun and oviously great to launch up and play a mission or two. It will also be the game i’ll be looking forward to see when i buy a new PC.

Personal notes and plans

For me, the following games are of interest right now:

  • Elder Scrolls Online
  • Black Desert Online
  • The Division
  • The Secret World
  • Blade & Soul

ESO will be the constant, Black Desert Online will be the “second choice”, everything else will be launched when the mood strikes me. Tomorrow evening, i plan to run a dungeon in ESO and i invited guild members to be there if they’d like to do one, as well.

Then there’s the now so timely post in the Dual Wielding edition on tuesday, and that will be it for march, gaming-wise, as we’ll be leaving for china on tuesday. From there, i might be able to post something (i think wordpress.com is blocked there, but not homepages run on the blogging software), but i doubt it will be gaming stuff.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu

I can’t recommend Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of the Earth’s past-series high enough. Now, i do have ties to China (my wife’s chinese) and as such, i’m quite interested in reading chinese novels, wuxia or otherwise, and it saddens me that it is so difficult to buy these things in paper-form. You can read fan-translated versions on the net in droves, but really professional publishings are rare. And if something’s available, it can set you back a ridiculous amount of money (60€ for a book). So i was quite happy when i discovered the first in Cixin Liu’s series, The Three-body problem. It won more than just one award, it was translated and it was available on Audible.

Here’s the blurb:

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

The Cultural Revolution serves as an introduction and i think it explains why someone would behave in a manner like that woman who gets into contact with the aliens does – she ignores a warning from one friendly alien and sets up humanity for extinction by giving away the existence and position of Earth. There’s another twist here: it will take the aliens 400 years to reach earth, so there is time to react to the threat. Unfortunately, much earlier, so-called “sophons” arrive and limit human research by way of messing things up with experiments like the particle accelerator. So we can make progress in currently available technologies but can’t develop new ones and it’s quite obvious that the aliens are superior and will almost certainly win the war.

It is an interesting and new take on the quite common “aliens invade earth” theme, and even from the point of view of a different- chinese- culture, which is good, because “non-western” views on topics like that tend to be surprising. And this one is- it’s not very heroic- many humans will believe in defeat and think about escape, if they think at all, and there’s even an organization that welcomes human extinction. It’s an interesting mind-game that’s very enjoyable to read/listen to.

One thing of note: i don’t know why, but i’m really having trouble with many english audiobooks. With the exception of Roy Dotrice, who reads the Song of Ice and Fire books, i find it very hard to follow most narrators because they are reading quite flat and emotionless. It took hours before i got used to the narrator here and started to notice differences in voicing different characters or moods. I’d really rather read, but these days, it’s much easier for me to listen to audiobooks instead.

This week, i listened to the second book of the series- The Dark Forest, and i’m glad to see that the author maintains the quality of the first one. The third and final book will release in english this year and i’m really looking forward to the conclusion- so if you like that kind of sci-fi, i really recommend you pick it up.

A quiet week

This week should have been big- really big. The Elder Scrolls’ Thieves Guild DLC launched, The Division launched and it is only week 2 of Black Desert Online. So there were three games i really like that needed my attention. And then…i decided to let it all pass me by.

It was a voluntary decision only in parts. I had planned a nice and fun guild activity for sunday evening and was looking forward to playing ESO with our small-but-still-growing community, when i woke up on sunday morning only to vomit six times in a row. I don’t know why i did, maybe i ate something icky, but i know it knocked me out. The rest of the day went by in a blur, i basically slept the whole day, got sick a few more times, tried to read some stories to our son and subsequently fell asleep doing that. At one point i managed to get up and post a message on the guild’s forum that i couldn’t make it- a message of two sentences, which is very unusual for me, and went back to bed. While i did get better on monday, i still didn’t feel too well and chose to go to bed early. This continued throughout the week- i did take a look at The Division but i’ve only managed to get to the base of operations by now. In this hugely exciting week i chose to take a break from gaming, and get good night’s sleep and rest. Today, on friday, i feel good. Just in time- tonight we’ll be taking a look at Hew’s Bane in Elder Scrolls Online. If someone turns up, that is.

The Guilt

One thing that has been a constant throughout the several attempts at creating and starting a guild up is that i love scheduled activities. When i log into a game, i’m usually not a very group-friendly player, because i need a few days to be in the right state of mind and in the right environment to set aside a fixed amount of time for being in a game. I love socializing in MMOs, but i do it in an “organized” manner by submitting an idea to the guild, setting a date and time, plan a bit and then make it happen. Usually, these events are received very positively by other guild members and frankly, i think they are what holds such a community together. The problem is this: in almost all cases, i’m the only one organizing these events and this fact leads to me feeling a lot of pressure. I’ll try and set these things up weekly/biweekly, but when something happens and i can’t make it, there’s a lot of silence. And when i need to cancel something, i feel like it sends a message to the other guildmembers, namely that “this isn’t important”. While it is true that i don’t really care if three, four or eight people turn up for a night of gaming, when people receive that message, it will at some point happen that no one turns up- or only one other person. Often, i haven’t been able to “bounce back” after such an event.

thieves_guild

So that’s what worries me right now- that, after i got sick just before the last two events – on the first occasion, i did turn up but had to shorten it quite a bit, tonight only few people will turn up. With our family going to China for two weeks on tuesday, this low attendance event might be followed by two weeks of silence. I’ll have to see how to pick things up again when i’m back. Or maybe i’m wrong, as i can also totally see 4-6 people logging on tonight. We’ll have to wait and see tonight.

After returning from China, i set up a dungeon running night- and that’s a strange one for me, because usually i plan these nights for all levels and all numbers of participants- and i can’t do that with dungeons, because the group size is four. But with the new grouping tools Elder Scrolls Online now supports, i think it is time to start the dungeon-delving.

Other than that, things are going great in the community- we took two recruits in as members and recruited two more players into our ranks- we are now just one player short of the guild bank. In terms of speed and amount of growth, it is turning out just as we hoped it would, which is nice.

Travel Log: Reaching Velia

I have switched to the Valkyrie and have arrived in Velia. And i have to confess, since then, i’m in love with Black Desert Online. The Valkyrie proved to be so much fun that i simply cut my way through the Beetles, Weasels, Foxes, Wolves and Imps surrounding Olvia- reaching level 10 was a matter of 20 minutes. I decided to claim my preorder goodies for her, but they haven’t arrived yet. With the preorder pack i chose, i could select a whole set of furniture (i went with fleece) and a pet. Normally, i am a cat person- but there was no cat resembling our RL cat, and i think it’s not really in cats’ nature to follow people around wherever they go, i went with a dog. I chose the “Naughty Dog”, because i thought it’s a basset hound (not convinced anymore but there’s some similarity, at least) and i’m a huge fan of the tv series “Columbo”. I might call him “dog”, too- but i won’t carry him around like Columbo did.

Naughty-Dog

columbo

It seems i can’t take quests with an Alt that are currently “active” on another character- besides the main storyline, of course. The Valkyrie didn’t do the same quests as the Witch did before her, for whatever reason. In the end, it made her progress much quicker. Arriving in Velia, i realized that everything before was more or less a tutorial. Velia was the first place where my quest log rose above five available quests. It was also the first village where i got a fishing quest and a trading quest. I got more contribution points while spending half an hour there than in all that time leading up to it. Now i actually have some left to spend.

And it was sprawling with people. Unfortunately i didn’t take a screen of it, but the coastline with all these players fishing was a sight to be seen. The roads are busier, too. Not only with players- there are men transporting…something. They’re NPCs and i’ve seen them before, but now? The roads are full of them- so i guess this is player-influenced. These guys either transport trade goods or materials- or are someone’s workers- or they transport players’ stuff from town to town when they move. It’s the first time i think the game is “opening up”, and it’s great to see. As is the general art design- these villages actually seem like villages, beaches look just like they’re supposed to look and the water…well, jumping in you can almost feel the refreshment in provides in the heat of a mediterranean afternoon.

I’m still not far along and don’t understand much, and until i do, i’ll reserve judgement. But for now…BDO remains very immersive and interesting- as BDO does so many things different than other MMOs, it’s a joy to feel lost and explore (land and mechanics) again.

Black Desert Online and the missing need for a saviour

For years- it must be six now- i’ve been looking for that “one” MMORPG experience. Some times, i thought i had found it- in Guild Wars 2 and ArcheAge, for example. That was pre-release, of course, as games are often perfect on paper and rarely on screen. What i was looking for is simple- an MMORPG that gives reason to living in the world, offers the opportunity to simply being a crafter or trader, removes instanced content completely and has regionally different pricing of goods as well as item decay. Were i still in that exact spot in my life both real and virtual, i would rejoice right now and welcome Black Desert Online as my new MMO home. I don’t, though, and it’s not the fault of the game. I’m still early in this (~7 hours /played) and my current situation is still the same Syl describes, but i have to say if that itch was still itching, BDO might just have made it stop.

Of course i’m wary- i was before release and still am. What if all these systems are actually quite shallow, as i’ve read somewhere (of course)? What if the cash shop gets worse? Actually, that’s not a question of possibility but time, in my opinion. As far as i know, all cash shops get “worse” over time. I can’t think of any example where a cash shop that started decent held this position forever. Elder Scrolls Online comes close, but in the end of march, it will introduce assistants- a banker and a merchant you can buy in the cash shop that will come out in the wild for you. In a game where inventory management still is a huge part of the gameplay experience, this is, of course, convenient and not pay-to-win, but it still signals a parting from only selling cosmetic stuff. But i’m not worried about all that- i don’t play any game competitively, so i don’t care if you need to buy stuff from the cash shop to be in the top 1%. But still, it might happen.

Before release, i didn’t really look into Black Desert Online. First it was because it was only announced in Korea and i didn’t want to put my hopes up like i did with ArcheAge and wait 3 years for the game to be released. Then, when it was clear it would come in the forseeable future, it was because i didn’t want another ArcheAge. It seems BDO avoids the mistakes that made ArcheAge sour for me: hacking, landgrabbing, cheating. I didn’t care for the business model, not even for the pay-to-win stuff that was available shortly after launch- what killed any desire in me to play it was the fact that, in the end, i was paying a sub to being able to craft and own land without the possibility to do so, because other players were cheating.

In BDO, housing is instanced and hacks don’t seem to play such a huge role. I also don’t need to subscribe to be able to craft or own houses. So by my accounts, it’s fine.

Not looking for the saviour anymore

What it comes down to is this: my expectations are different now. I don’t expect MMORPGs to provide that whole virtual world experience anymore. Sure, i prefer it, but it can come in so many varieties nowadays that i can’t point a finger on something and say: THAT’S IT! Take Elder Scrolls Online, for example- it’s not a sandbox by any means, but compare it to my feature-wishlist, it’s only really lacking in the non-combat-department. Instead, it offers interesting stories while questing, the ability to build the character in almost any way i want, not an open world, but very open zones and an interesting crafting system. It also encourages social activity by removing global auction houses.

And i'd love to play The Secret World, as well.
And i’d love to play The Secret World, as well.

It was surprising to me, but i’m happy in Elder Scrolls Online and like the experience it provides very much- this is a game that i like better on screen than on paper. I think this is key in the whole “manage your expectations”-theme: if you read something, you’ll inject your own ideas into vague marketing/hype statements. In your mind, you’ll make it seem even better than what the devs actually tell you (this goes the other way, too- if you dislike something about an announcement, you’ll make it seem worse than it is). ESO fits into everything- my available time to play, my playstyle, my favourite pacing.

This week, when i was able to play, i had to make the difficult decision on whether to play Elder Scrolls or Black Desert Online. I’ve played multiple MMORPGs at the same time pretty much since free-to-play became a thing, but sometimes it was feeling more like the choice of a lesser evil- i’m exaggerating, of course, after all nobody forces me to play MMORPGs, or games. This time, it feels different, because i want to play both (and more, but to a lesser degree- looking at TSW and Blade&Soul here) at the same time. It’s different than last year- last year, i switched games because i was unhappy/not having fun with one for a longer period. This year, it seems there are too many choices where i do have fun.

My view on MMORPGs has pretty much shifted to me perceiving them as normal games instead of the special entity they used to be for me in the years past. And i think this is a compliment for the devs- at least a partial one. I’ve never found an MMORPGs gameplay very enticing- it sold its whole package to me. But with games like ESO and BDO- and soon even The Division- i think fun made an appearance in the genre (Guild Wars 2 and Blade&Soul also do fine in this regard).

All i’m saying is: i’m not looking for that saviour anymore- the game i’ll play exclusively in the coming 5 years, because i value diversity in the genre now. If i was, though, i think Black Desert Online would come close- on paper as well as what i see on screen right now.

Black Desert Online – earliest impressions

I can’t even do an “early impressions” post yet. Others are better in doing that, anyway. A few things i noted in my time with BDO so far:

  • the game doesn’t do a very good job in introducing you to its systems- for instance, i do know i can talk (it’s a conversation minigame, by the way) to NPCs, but i don’t really know why i should bother
  • this encourages exploration and wonder, so actually, i love that it doesn’t make everything so clear
  • the quests you do at around level 12-15 will offer a slow introduction to crafting
  • you can’t dry stuff when it’s night or cloudy – this game is highly immersive
  • there’s no fast travel- but there’s autorun; it’s the combination of these two elements that make this work
  • The night is dark and full of terrors (mobs are stronger and more aggressive in the night)
  • combat is fun- even with the Witch. Can’t wait to create my Valkyrie
  • you need to switch on all quest types in your Questlog (standard key: o ), elsewise the game will only mark NPCs with kill quests
  • inventory management. I carry all available tools with me- not a good strategy because i only have like 5 free inventory spaces when i venture out
  • it’s a beautiful game and a beautiful world that’s fully worth exploring

Conclusion? Right now, i love Black Desert Online and hate it for this love at the same time. As soon as possible, i’ll hook up with Massively Overpowered’s guild- my guess is that will improve the experience even further.

And next week, there’ll be The Division. Oh my…

Travel Log: Entering Greenshade

Last week i started venturing into Greenshade, but only entered Marbruk and did some guild quests there. Then Black Desert Online happened, so i gave it two nights to play around a bit. Yesterday and today, i wanted to venture out in Greenshade. It turned out that i didn’t get to quest at all yesterday because of a very active guild chat (we have two new recruits, raising our count to 9), so it had to be today. I did a main quest and then set forth to explore Greenshade a bit. After the amazing wood-zone of Grahtwood, the more open design in the beginning of Greenshade is a welcome change. Just like all the other zones, Greenshade seems to be beautifully designed. I like how the zones in Elder Scrolls Online are open and “realistic” while still being breathtaking almost all-around.

I have the task to bring these Bosmer clans here under the umbrella of the Aldmeri Dominion, so i went out to the first village and see what they wanted. They wanted me to drive an orc clan away. Difficulty is ramping up here- i wasn’t in any trouble, not by any means, but that orc clan area was quite full of orcs- don’t pay attention and you just might pull too many of them. I think it’s funny that Belghast did the same thing a few days ago and wrote about it yesterday, although i think he’s doing it in Veteran Ranks. Then i went and talked to that Wilderking of theirs. He’s strangely curious about someone who’s coming to kill him.

So for today i’ll leave you with a few screenshots of the area.

Does it have to be a sandbox?

The MMORPG industry is a slow one. When a trend emerges, it takes time for developers and/or publishers to react and release games incorporating said trends. The heavy years of “WoW clones” were 2007-2010 while for the players, at least those vocal enough to put their thoughts into writing, it was clear since 2009, at the latest, that they wanted something different. Back then, we weren’t all too sure about what we wanted- we wanted “different but familiar enough”, a vague statement. Games like Star Wars: the old Republic, The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar tried to find a comfortable spot. Since 2012, maybe 2013, with the announcement of ArcheAge and Everquest Next (haha), it seemed clear that players want MMOs to return to sandbox design. Slowly, this new batch of MMORPGs arrives: with ArcheAge last year, now Black Desert Online and soon Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Shards Online, Albion, the Repopulation 2.0 and so on. MMORPGs seem to be going back into a niche and are happy for it, while MMOs are going ever more mainstream (The Division).

With Black Desert Online, there’s this odd discussion whether it truly is a sandbox or just a glorified themepark with a lack of content.

What is a “Sandbox”, anyway?

I’ve read that a “true sandbox” has to offer its players more freedom in terms of building structures in the world (although we all know that if they’d do that, we’d live in Dong-land).

The discussion about whether or not an MMORPG is a sandbox is quite old and done, really. Everybody who tackles this topic- and me too, will throw the definition of “sandbox” (Wikipedia even redirects to “open world”) out there: it’s about an open world instead of linear level design. Taking this definition verbatim, there are many MMORPGs that are a sandbox- namely all MMORPGs taking place in worlds without artificial barriers and invisible walls. That would be true for Rift or Wildstar, for example. While we all have different views on that, here’s the part of the definition that gets me:

Their main appeal is they provide a simulated reality and allow players to develop their character and its behavior in the direction of their choosing. In these cases, there is often no concrete goal or end to the game.

No concrete goal or end to the game. Let that sink in and think about the reaction something like this would get from MMO players- we’d be telling each others about missing endgame and a pointlessness of the leveling process and we’d be asking where the content is. On the other hand, having no concrete goal or end to the game is also standard operation for MMORPGs- you can play World of Warcraft for battle pets only, or for good-looking armor, or for achievements the auction house and so on. There are as many motivations to play this game as there are players. You could argue, of course, that you beat the game by beating whatever content is the “most difficult” in the game right now- but this still is not a defined ending.

I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.
I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.

Now, i do know that when MMO players debate about a game being a sandbox/themepark, they’re not talking about that definition shown above- because that definition doesn’t allow for much discussion in MMO space. I know that when we talk about “Themepark”, we talk about developer-created content taking the front seat. When we’re talking about “Sandboxes”, we think about player-created content and “emergent gameplay”, whatever that means. But even if we’d draw the lines there, things get blurry- is Neverwinter a sandbox, then? Because players can create content there- or are these players simply hobbyist-content-developers?

In the end, if you walk away from that Wikipedia definition of open world, no end, no goal, you will never come to an objective observation whether one game is a sandbox or not, with one exception: when a game gives players almost complete control of their environment (while providing some rules instead of content) like EVE does. But we don’t want EVE- at least the majority doesn’t, not even the majority of the vocal minority, while most of them state they do want a (pve-)sandbox. Giving players freedom also seems to include the ability for players to ruin other players’ enjoyment of a game.

I think the key here is in a small part of the definition cited above: simulated reality.

Simulated reality and options

Sandbox or Themepark doesn’t matter, really. What matters is if an MMORPG is trying to build a simulated reality / virtual world and provides players with options in how to spend time in the game: things like pve, housing, crafting, trade, fishing, pet and mount collection, character looks, character builds and yes, even pvp- they need to be central to the design of an MMORPG, because, MMORPGs are good because they provide all that- they’re basically a gaming genre-mix. When you take this into account, you will find that Everquest 2, an MMORPG of the “Themepark” subgenre, in the end offered more ways to play it than Darkfall or Mortal Online, both “Sandboxes” do.

Is Black Desert Online a Sandbox?

Is BDO a sandbox? For me, it’s too early to tell. Right now, i get the feeling that the best course of action would be to continue questing to finally arrive at a few quests that might teach me BDO’s many systems. A real sandbox would have to offer a significant player economy, as well- at least in MMOs. You’ll have trade as an option in Black Desert Online- trade, that is- as in ArcheAge- about transporting special goods from one place to the other and buying/selling to NPCs.

The furniture merchant in Olvia
The furniture merchant in Olvia

I’m only level 11 and i’m already able to trade, go fishing, collecting, milk cows (a daily quest), go mob grinding or questing or simply explore the world. However, i do feel that i need to reach Heidel City for the game to truly open up. And i think Black Desert is a game where having Alts makes life a lot easier. So these are my plans in that game for now: reaching Heidel City through questing with Nuria, the Witch and then go and create the Valkyrie. Although i feel “on rails” in this part of the game, i’m convinced that by the time i reach level 50 at the latest- and it seems to only take a double-digit number of hours /played- i’ll be free to play the game in the way i want to.

/Saved: Black Desert, Cash shops, thinking in MMOs and goodbyes

There’s a lot to share this week, as we can take a closer look at Black Desert Online and The Division. There are also some opinion pieces on cash shops in general or Black Desert’s offerings in particular. There’s talk about unnecessary game systems as well as thinking in MMORPGs- and a goodbye-post, as well.

General Chat

Did MMORPGs make their players think more in their earlier incarnations? That’s a discussion i followed when it was started- at least in my Feedly, by Bhaguss, who feels that things like “local knowledge” and combat behaviour are made too easy or are missing in modern MMOs. There is a polite answer by Jeromai, who is of the opinion that games still require putting thought into it and that this is where “skill” comes from. He’s writing that it takes time and the will from the part of the players to put this thought in and that you could put thought into combat even in action combat games before/after a fight. I guess this is where Telwyn’s post comes in, stating that in faster combat, thoughts have to be made up faster, as well, and this would put a gap between players. Telwyn therefore prefers slower combat titles. My opinion in short form: i think “local knowledge” is still there, in games like Elder Scrolls and Black Desert, and while i do prefer slower combat, right now i don’t have any hotbar-combat-MMOs in my rotation- but i think ESO, for instance, has a very good combat pace to also make thought possible in fights. I do agree, however, that there are MMOs where combat feels…well, like a time-waster, actually. I could name one hotbar-combat-game and one action-combat-game where i find the combat to be utterly boring- but i won’t.

Sometimes i save up posts much later than they were written- i don’t know why, but Roger Edwards “farewell” to Lord of the Rings Online slipped into this week. I find it sad, actually, when a game you used to play and like suddenly- or slowly- changes in ways you don’t approve or maybe it’s not only the game that changed but you, as well. In the end it doesn’t matter, saying goodbye has to be tough. On the other hand it can also be liberating- this time last year, i was following news from a lot of games- from Lotro to Rift, Wildstar and WoW over to ArcheAge, FF14 and SWTOR. And everytime there was a new patch i was tempted to join back in. This year, not so much. I’ve pretty much closed the files on all of them and, while i’m still not a “one MMO” type of player and will probably never be one- i feel i can handle the current roster.

I followed Aywren’s journey to becoming a mentor in FF14. I think she was aiming to become a mentor from the moment the program was announced. It’s basically a program where experienced players help newbies out. Most people who opt into such a program do so because they love the game, they love the community and they want to “give something back”. I saw this in Fallen Earth, where a chat channel is maintained just for helping new players out. As with many things, becoming a mentor in FF14 is a huge time-sink (it’s a subscription game, after all), but luckily, for Aywren, there was a way to become mentor by way of crafting instead of doing a few hundred dungeon runs. So she went that route- only to find out that she couldn’t mentor, after all, because she needs to do ALL THE DUNGEONS. Now i don’t know the inner workings here, but to me, that’s simply not right.

Meanwhile, Syp wrote about the AEGIS system in TSW’s Tokyo– well that and similar systems, and Rowan Blaze agrees. It seems so do many others, linked in the second post. I am not far enough into TSW to offer my opinion on that, specifically, but i have to say that it is the one thing i’d be very unhappy to have to go through when reaching Tokyo. Just like ESO’s “silver/gold campaigns” where you have to play the other factions’ content as well, this is something that makes me not wanting to reach that point in the game. I also dislike systems that are used for one expansion cycle only and replaced later on.

Cash shops, generally and in BDO

Liore has to be mentioned first with her great post on how she’s fed up with cash shops. And i totally agree- they’ve reached a point where they’re simply annoying, and it’s not only because the things that are monetized. For me, i’m getting tired of trying to figure out the stuff i “need” to buy. You can play SWTOR as a preferred player, buy a few unlocks and you’ll be pretty much free to enjoy the game without a subscription. Trying to figure out what it takes, though, is boring. When cash shops offer a lot of virtual goods, i find that i’m unlikely to browse through it all and buy something- i like them clean like Elder Scrolls Online’s shop is, for instance.

Weighing in on Black Desert’s cash shop, Ironweakness writes that instead of being angry at the prices for costumes in BDO, he’ll simply refrain from buying them. Isaari takes a look at how the playerbase plays down pay-to-win elements in BDO.

Black Desert Online

Here’s a nice guide on trading in Black Desert Online, written by Scopique on Levelcapped. It gives a basic idea on how all this stuff works.

http://www.levelcapped.com/2016/02/26/black-desert-online-interstate-commerce/

Syl takes a look at whether you should play BDO as a PvE-player. She thinks it’s worth it, mentioning that player killing gives huge karma penalties and that ganking should be a rare occurence.

Prettylittlesith puts away the Dark Side of the Force and shares her opinion on the Black Desert Online Beta.

The Division

Continuing from before, we still have a few impression pieces of The Division’s Open Beta, generally very positive in their nature, so i’ll give a simple list.

The Division Beta

Updated: The Division BETA Thoughts

Cheating on WoW: The Division Beta

Monday quick notes: what does a Black Desert look like, anyway?

Black Desert Online

Anticipation for BDO rose to an all-time high for me this week. Granted, almost everything i read that also contained an opinion was mixed, to say the least, and i didn’t participate long enough in the beta to form an opinion on my own. What got me was the impression that here’s a game you can actually play in many different ways. Beginning with the different “currencies” and skills up to the fact that the only thing granting leveling xp will be the mobs- suddenly i saw myself riding off into a world to explore on my own. And i think this will have to be it, as the developer-created content seems quite thin. But i have another game for that and i was actually really looking forward to beginning my journey in BDO.

So i did- i wish i could tell you more, but at this point, i’m trying to make sense of all the game’s offerings myself. I followed the questline as long as it took to leave Olvia behind, but still feel i missed something back there because i haven’t gained even one contribution point while the quests there seem to have dried up. This leaves three possibilities: either i haven’t found all the quests, the quests in the next town count toward Olvia, as well or it is highly recommended to run multiple characters through Olvia. Right now, i need contribution points for two things: connecting nodes and buying a house, although i’ll put that last part off a bit until i know what i need the house for.

Introducing Nuria Mersault, Witch. I chose something different than this smile- unfortunately, now she's running around with her eyes closed.
Introducing Nuria Mersault, Witch. I chose something different than this smile- unfortunately, now she’s running around with her eyes closed.

So far, there’s one thing that game managed very well: giving the impression of being in a vast world. I began gathering resources and soon found myself with a full inventory- thankfully, there’s a warehouse in Olvia- here’s the thing with that, though: as far as i know, those warehouses store items locally, so i can’t actually access them in the next town. If you take this into account as well as the fact that there’s no fast travel in this game, it’s obvious that at some point down the line, you’ll set up a “home” or base of operations. For me and right now, this is Olvia and i need to figure out how to get more contribution to unlock two nodes- thereby allowing me to sell a “trade material” (that’s basically expensive “junk” you can sell to certain npcs for bigger amounts of silver) at 100% of its value- that would be around 10000 Silver (current balance: 3500 Silver)- without those two nodes, the npc will only pay 30%.

The giant in the background keeps your stuff safe in the warehouse.
The giant in the background keeps your stuff safe in the warehouse.

I haven’t touched crafting yet, because i don’t have any idea how to do it- but gathering is interesting: if you kill a fox, for instance, you have three options: to get fluids from its corpse, to skin it or to get the meat- that’s one mob giving you three options to utilize it for crafting material depending on the tool you equip.

The game itself doesn’t tell you much- or maybe it is slower in telling than i’d like it to be- because i saw there are video tutorials for gathering and crafting, but i haven’t reached the point where the game lets me watch these yet. Grinding mobs is hugely satisfying- although i have to say the respawn rate is quite high right now. Wolves, for instance (they attack) spawn so quick that i can’t even harvest the resources from those i killed before. I’m level 10 now and this game is still a big question mark in my book- but that’s really nice, because now, i’m eager to go back in and explore further. My feeling is that in this game, the player will have to utilize intricate knowledge of the game system to his or her advantage.

As a last note- i haven’t had any troubles playing on a NA-server from europe. Seems to be working fine.

ESO_logo-black

Elder Scrolls Online

I began questing in Greenshade with Nuria Solstrum and tackled the two guild-quests that sent me there. I got to see the Earth Forge.

I don't like lava zones but i can take one instanced cave. It's very atmospheric.
I don’t like lava zones but i can take one instanced cave. It’s very atmospheric.

I also played a part in a “theater piece” written by Sheogorath, the Daedric prince of Madness. Somehow i think that the content of the play will become true down the line- it was about the three alliances turning against the mages guild because they refuse to pick a side.

All in all, i have to say: with Elder Scrolls Online, Black Desert Online and The Division upcoming, MMO-wise i’m in a very happy place right now. And there’s also The Secret World in my rotation. Since the beginning of the year, it was so easy to simply ignore news coming from all the other titles, i’m not tempted in the slightest. It’s a great place to be in and i expect this to continue throughout this year.

Others

Rocket League’s newest DLC release will be the Batmobile. For 2€, i think i’m in.

Rocket League still takes up about half of my available gaming time, i’m so happy i bought it. Sometimes i play with two friends and that’s when the fun really starts. I’ve paid 13€ and played 100 hours- i think i can put another 2€ in for a cool looking car.

Goals for this week

  • further exploring in Black Desert Online
  • creating that guild with Ironweakness and Aywren in BDO (maybe we’ll start as a clan? A clan is free, a guild costs 100000 Silver) and hope we’ll be joined by more folks
  • continuing my Templar in Elder Scrolls Online, maybe even reaching level 30 (don’t think i will)

Travel Log: wrapping up Grahtwood

Yesterday i finally had/took the time to wrap up Grahtwood, the level 16-24 area for Aldmeri Dominion in Elder Scrolls Online. Nuria has been in Grahtwood, well, for almost 2 years, i suppose, as it was one of the characters i created back when the game launched. I can’t tell you how many hours of /played it took to finish it, but what i am able to tell you is that it was a memorable experience.

I do remember when i first got there. Not in too much detail, but i remember how difficult i found it to be. It’s not often that you’ll find standard open-world content difficult in MMORPGs- here, coming to Grahtwood with a fresh level 16 character, it was as much an unwelcoming place as the quest lore made it out to be. It was grim, and i’ve found some quest very confusing- i can’t remember which one, anymore, but somehow, something put me to a stop in the game. I know i loathed the inventory minigame even more back then, because ESO was still asking for a subscription at that time and i felt it was one of those time-wasters designed to make you sub longer. Around that time, i decided to discontinue playing the game.

When i returned a couple of times to check the game out again, i did what i always do: create a new character to play because i had forgotten about the old one. So i didn’t see the Grahtwood anymore, until our guild decided to side with the Aldmeri Dominion and i was looking at either continuing Nuria or create another new character. As i have been playing the game in our premade group up to level 8, i felt i could tackle a level 19 character of the same class- after all, there had been a skill reset in the meantime and i had a general idea on what to do with the character.

Laeloria

It wasn’t easy, though. I still had to struggle through getting to know the character and the situation she found herself in. And, after all that time and despite really liking the Daggerfall Covenant zones and quest-related stories, it’s Grahtwood where i fell in love with the game again. And it was a quest.

The watcher in the Treehouse, again.
The watcher in the Treehouse, again.

Laeloria. I don’t know what it was about this quest- i guess it was all a happy coincidence. First, i saw the building you can see in the background of the screenshot above. I made a mental note to take a look later. While travelling around, at some point i saw a Treehouse and decided to climb it, as i knew it would offer some kind of view. Arriving there, i received the quest- freeing some captured soul from Coldharbour- and the Watcher told me more. How someone already ventured in to free that soul, how she told him to watch the beacon and pay attention if/when it turned to a red light. I was enthralled, because i wondered if it would, indeed, turn red and thereby ending the century-long wait for that Watcher. So now Laeloria was more than a building i wanted to explore at some point- it was encased in the lore of the Watcher and the liberation of not one, but two individuals and finally even in the mystery of the beacon. That’s a normal side-quest, mind you. It’s not even a very uncommon theme here- freeing people from a dangerous place often is the motivation for the player character to venture in, after all. But for some reason, all these elements clicked for me. Better yet, that wasn’t even all there is to Laeloria.

Statue of Azura in Laeloria.
Statue of Azura in Laeloria.

Azura, a Daedra that’s not even viewed as being as evil as the others, is in this whole scheme, as well. As is a demon, but i didn’t like that one very much. It’s this quest that will me- or my character, at least- have a “special” connection to Azura from then on. Now, i don’t know anything much about the lore of Elder Scrolls games and Elder Scrolls Online in particular- it’s a gap i plan to fill at some point, also because of this quest and Azura.

Exploring Laeloria was very satisfying and i wasn’t disappointed, of course. After all that tension building up around this place it did deliver on it, after all. Did the beacon turn red? Well, you’ll have to take a look yourself.

Grahtwood

The zone has to offer much more and it’s actually quite diverse, even though the theme never changes from being a wood. There are Bosmer villages made of trees and acorns, i guess. There are Altmer villages, ruins and embassies, there are open spaces as well as dark woods/rough terrain. It’s not easy to navigate while still being open enough to not make it an annoyance.

There’s a dungeon, of course- Elder Hollows, and it is nice to look at, indeed. The main storyline in Grahtwood revolves around preventing a revolution in Bosmer ranks and getting Ayrenn to do some kind of ceremony to prove she truly is a fitting leader for the Dominion. There’s a bit of betrayal, drama and magic mystery involved, as well as a funny twist on vegetarism- Bosmer don’t eat plants and you’ll be reminded of that several times – i really liked getting through the questing in Grahtwood.

I’ve seen strange places like that “Garden of Flesh” in the Reliquary of Stars and followed gruesome tales of unreturned love. Memorable, i guess, is the right word. In the end, after getting that quest achievement, there were 2 delves, 3 Skyshards and one “eye” left to explore- that’s what i did last night.

In retrospective, with a zone as large as the Grahtwood is, the slow leveling in Elder Scrolls Online and all the real-time involved here- even if i were only counting the time since i returned to that character- it truly feels like an epic experience, a journey. So now, i’m off to Greenshade- looking forward to explore that place. I’ll leave you with some shots i took during my travels.

 

What is grind?

I’ve read an opinion piece about some grind not being a bad thing on Tentonhammer and it made me think: first and foremost, the first example mentioned in the article- Wildstar’s early attunement process for raids – that’s not a grind, and if/when you became attuned, you haven’t accomplished anything- what you did was unlocking a game feature.

Locking game features behind “grind” or another lengthy process of doing stuff in game is not a good idea in a genre whose audience gets older fast. See, we might want to raid, and we want to do it as soon as possible- making us play 200 hours before allowing us to do what we deem fun is not good game design. “Being able to access raids” is not an ingame goal- “being ready to tackle raids” might be- and for the last one, it can take a couple of hours.

Black Desert Online will release in little more than a week- and i’ll be able to log in in a week’s time. “The Grind” seems to be something a portion of the playerbase is worried about- and that’s the part where i agree with the opinion piece linked above- “Grind” is not a thing that has me worried- see, if i’m having fun killing and skinning wolves, for example, i will at some point in my career kill 1000 of them to get the 100 wolf furs i need to make the beige blanket for that giant in the hill to gain reputation with him to be able to buy his recipe for a fast-growth-elixir. It can also provide a goal to aim for. Sure, sometimes the amount needed to achieve something seems to be high and can suck the fun out of a game, but in my experience, this is mostly because one of the following reasons:

  1. this is your current goal and the only one you follow. Therefore, it get’s highly repetetive and annoying
  2. all of the goals are achieved in a similar manner
  3. there are no other similar goals provided
Using ArcheAge screens here as i have none from BDO yet
These fields used to be planted by identical trees at some point- everyone who had a farming spot would grow them to achieve the same goal as their neighbour. (AA screens, as i have none from BDO yet)

I’ve found that, in general, the pacing of a game is a huge factor in determining my own enjoyment- i need to be able to take it slow and take in the world, or maybe even simply hang out; i need to be able and ramp things up and maybe run a group dungeon and so on. If a game offers one pace only- Wildstar would be one example for that, and Lotro & FF14 might be examples of the slow extreme- it gets boring quickly. Lotro is the one game i refer to as a “quest grinder”- there’s not much else to do than quest. It’s entirely possible that this is just my subjective way of looking at things in Lotro- but i’ve always felt this game is just a very long chain of quests. So if Black Desert doesn’t provide (much) quest xp, we know this is not really an issue because you can gain contribution points to spend on houses and the like. Likewise, simply grinding out mobs will give you “knowledge”. So, to me, it seems as if there’s something provided for different paces of gameplay. Without fast travel, i’m pretty sure exploration will also be a big part of the game, and then there’s crafting, trading, fishing and so on- all providing different gameplay mechanics and speeds.

MMOs nowadays also have to provide goals to set out for in different dimensions: i need to get something noteworthy done in 30 minutes, 2 hours, a day, a week, a month and if the designers are ambitious, even in a year. So maybe that giant could also take handkerchiefs made out of 2 wolf furs you could reasonably get by killing 20 wolves to raise reputation accordingly. Maybe a boat doesn’t have to be built at once, but by combining 4-5 parts that you can – or have to- create before assembling them to one. Here’s also where the usual mention of sandboxes not being for casuals comes from- what serves some players as a goal for a week, it serves others as a goal for a session. For instance, this week i’d like to finally finish off Grahtwood in Elder Scrolls Online- there are a few Skyshards and Delves left and i want to explore a place that was pointed out on a map i’ve found on a mob. This might take, all in all, one session of maybe 3-4 hours, and i’m sure someone would be able to do it in an hour. When each session gets shorter- maybe i’ll do only one skyshard and one delve in each, this could take even longer. But i can still achieve something in 30 minutes (one delve or one skyshard) and will feel as if i had accomplished something in that session. I really don’t care if it’ll take me a year to construct a boat- if i can work towards it in short sessions, as well.

If we're all doing the same anyway, there's no need for a game to be an MMO.
If we’re all doing the same anyway, there’s no need for a game to be an MMO.

I don’t really know how good or bad Black Desert does in this regard, but i do hope they had something like this in mind when creating the game, but since i’ve read somewhere that setting things up this way is basically MMORPG creation 101, i’m sure they did. Then again- why do so many games still get it wrong?

As a sidenote: i think both of these points are what makes me so happy with ESO right now- disregarding the inventory management minigame that takes away at least 15 minutes of each of my sessions, i can set a pace and goals for each session, hour and week (i don’t have the insight into the game for even longer term goals yet) that fits in my playstyle and current mood.

The Walking Dead Season 4 impressions

We’ve finished watching The Walking Dead Season 4, finally, and generally speaking, i’m really glad we picked that up again. While Zombies are quite overdone by now, depictions of the Zombie apocalypse are so much more than just that- traditionally, movies and series of this genre say much more about humanity as their post-apocalyptic setting suggests.

Here might be Spoilers. Also PG-rated, as i’m writing about The Walking Dead (no harsh pictures, though).

Perspective

To give some perspective, since this might just be the first post i’m writing about something other than MMORPGs, the Zombie adaption i like the most, The Walking Dead notwithstanding, are the 28 days/weeks later movies and i’m still hoping for the third one to arrive at some point. In terms of tv-series, my all-time-favourite has to be The Wire. With those movies, i like their direction, the soundtrack, the color scheme used in each of them. I like the fact that the Infected, in this case, can starve- they’re not Undead. This allows for developement of the story- from the downfall of civilization up to rebuilding it. The Wire, on the other hand, is a (mind you, i’m european and have never been to the US, so i might be wrong) nice picture of how i imagine the US society to be- it involved looks into different areas of life- from the drugdealing, middle-class up to politicians and press. So i like my tv-series/movies to be entertaining, but not devoid of some kind of depth. That’s not to say i won’t watch movies without conceivable depth, but i won’t rate them very high.

Potential

The Walking Dead has a lot of potential- here, we can take a look at the downfall of civilization as well as how people cope with it and, maybe, rebuild some of our former glory. Generally speaking, that’s where TWD is failing in my point of view- at least in the first four seasons- there’s no sense of rebuilding. It’s always about finding shelter, meeting other, usually bad, people, shooting each other, losing shelter, finding new. We’re stuck in survival mode- it’s a bit like playing 7 days to die over and over again on different maps. Season 4 is quite the same here, actually- we’ll start in the prison, we meet the Governor (Brian) again, the two groups fight each other, both lose, the prison’s overrun and inhabitable, the survivors of the group go looking for another place. And i don’t believe for a minute that Eugene knows what caused the outbreak and that he’s able to “save the world”- it’s probably just a ploy to get protection.

Personality

The strong side, in my opinion, are still the characters and the interaction between them. Honestly, it’s mostly about the interactions, as there isn’t really even one character i particularly like with Michonne coming closest.

Or it could be the Katana- i like those.
Or it could be the Katana- i like those.

And while we usually meet other people just to go to war with them, we can also see the application of different strategies of survival- sometimes idealistic, rebuilding and protecting a village- sometimes practical, as in living in a prison. All characters have been through different hardships in their quests of survival, so you can also see different outcomes in how they are influenced by their own actions and their past losses.

Prison

So with all that out of the way, we begin Season 4 in the prison, where life seems to be as comfortable as it possibly can be in the Zombie apocalypse. Instead of being fighters, the group is slowly changing over to being farmers and scavengers. I can tell you that by episode 3 or 4, i was very willing to give the prison up- while there was some developement in the prison society, all in all they were still quite the same. I don’t know what i’d expect, but i imagine that a group of people would try and rebuild a “good” society- and sure, farming would be the logical first step in doing this. But Farmer Rick was not convincing.

the-walking-dead-season-4-rick-carl
Happy Days!

He seemed like someone who was just waiting to pick up a backpack and a gun again and run off into the woods. Later, when the prison is lost, we’ll see that most of the people in there are remembering their time in the prison quite fondly- but there’s almost no hint of happiness and optimism in these early prison episodes. Then comes the flu, several prison-people get sick, die and return. A team drives about 50 miles to get some antibiotics and save the group. It’s when they’ve returned that we’ll see the Governor attacking the prison.

Brian

There are two episodes telling the story of the Governor from Season 3 and what he was up to in the time before the attack on the prison. He loses his will to fight, regains it when he meets a family, protects that family, takes them with him to find a “better place”, takes leadership of that group they meet and decides to take the prison for this new group and his new family, in particular. He calls himself Brian now; i’m not sure if this was his real name, and he’s changed- at least seemingly. I’d probably know if i had watched Season 3 recently, but the last time we watched TWD was when Season 3 was the newest Season. But my impression was that in Season 3, his motivation for doing things is gaining/retaining power and a certain lifestyle- in Season 4, it’s to protect his new “family”. His behaviour doesn’t change much, though, as he kills a few people and goes to war with the prison-people.

War

The episodes up until this point weren’t groundbreaking, but watchable. The episode showing Brian’s attack on the prison and the resulting chaos/escape is interesting and good. Brian asks Rick’s group to leave the prison until sundown- and he has the upper hand, as he took a tank with him. Rick declines and tries to persuade Brian’s group that there’s no need to fight, they could simply come in and share. Brian, of course, doesn’t like that much, kills Hershel, whom he had abducted earlier, and the shoot-out begins. The tank takes the prison-fences down and there you have it: lots of “Walkers” inside the prison walls.

Survival

After their escape, the survivors of Rick’s group are divided into a few smaller groups of, well, 2-4 characters we know. They’re back to survival, to finding shelters for one night instead of homes to rebuild. And of course, there’s promise of more: on railroad tracks, they see signs of a sanctuary- “Terminus”. And of course they’ll all decide to go there- i mean, i’d do the same; it’s the promise of other people, security and maybe even other survivors from the earlier group.

Well, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. And there was something feeling off in Terminus when the groups finally arrived there- it seemed too peaceful, too accepting- it was too easy. Rick then recognizes a watch and some clothes from other members of their former group and pulls his gun. The Season ends when we see the people who arrived at Terminus locked in a train wagon.

My first thought when we saw the first people arrive in Terminus was “Cannibals”, and i’m pretty sure that’s the right guess. I mean, it would be kind of funny- “The Walking Dead, now with living people eating people”.

Conclusion

I’ve found quite a few episodes to be utterly boring- to be precise, almost all the way from prison to Terminus. Sure, there were highs and lows and i’m still complaining on quite a high level, as The Walking Dead still is character-driven and quite ok in this regard. But story-wise, i wish we’d move on from the survival-shelter-new home-war-loss-theme we’ve had since the series began. As i said, i don’t really know what i’d expect, but it would be something else, story-wise. And we all know, TWD is in its 6th season now, it will soon end, possibly with Season 8 or 9 (US-tv-series rarely make it into the double-digits). It would be nice to see something different than the same struggle for survival until Rick dies. I’d like to see another theme here, a grander vision for human behaviour in this situation. Well, we’ll see where S5 will take us.