Monday, December 17, 2018

8.1 Alliance War Campaign

I finished the available parts of the Alliance war campaign. There are three "chapters" available, out of four total. I'm somewhat surprised that Blizzard didn't time-gate each chapter. It would have fit well, and each chapter is a reasonable chunk of content.

The first chapter is working with Jaina to fend off an assault on Anglepoint. This was a pretty good use of a previous location and NPCs. Also, the final cutscene combined with the Achievement name ([Kul Tirans Don't Look At Explosions]) was very amusing.

The second chapter was this very odd blend of comedy and tragedy, where you use a gnomish device to "embiggen" an intelligent gorilla at the cost of his intelligence. The gorilla volunteers for this operation, seeking to strike back at the Horde (goblins, naturally) for hunting his people. So the entire quest line is a bunch of things that are normally funny, but kind of aren't anymore. I'm not certain if this was a good idea or not, but it was an interesting way of presenting the usual light and mindless gnomish shenanigans.

The third chapter was a treasury heist scenario featuring our favourite Alliance rogues, Mathias Shaw and Flynn Fairwind. Even though they're both rogues, they're both very different characters. Lots of fun banter. The scenario itself was pretty interesting, with several traps that you have to navigate.

I believe the second and third chapters are setting up potential bosses in the Dazalor raid.

There's still one more chapter, which I'm guessing unlocks tomorrow.

All in all, the Alliance War Campaign is pretty good. One interesting thing Blizzard is doing this expansion is taking their time with the story. 8.0 was all about setting initial outposts, and trying to avoid the enemy's attention. In 8.1 things are heating up, and there is more direct confrontation. This long view of the story is interesting, especially as we see many complaints that the factions aren't clashing as much as people think they should be.

Edit: One thing I forgot that I wanted to point out was that Blizzard was very good with cutscenes featuring your character in this patch. The aforementioned first chapter cutscene with both your character and Jaina walking away from the explosion was particularly stylish.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Battle for Darkshore

Patch 8.1 was released yesterday. I did the Night Elf quest chain leading to the Battle of Darkshore.

I really enjoyed the quest line. It was good to see the Night Elves go feral and strike back.

The new warfront is interesting. The initial phase before getting a base is longer, which makes it feel more like an invasion or amphibious assault.

The primary resource seems to be wood, where Arathi emphasized iron. In Darkshore it feels like you use iron for recruiting troops or special abilities, and use wood for building. I liked the Night Elf style of the buildings, and the abilities you get.

It did seem to go a bit faster than Arathi, with a shorter building phase, but that might be just because we're learning the new zone.

I'm not really sure about the undead/goblin opposition. Though that's mostly because I don't like goblins and the "tech" that they bring in. They seem out of place in a night elf/worgen/undead fight. It's all shadows and knives in the dark, then the goblins burst in with flashy neon lights.

All in all, the new warfront is pretty good. Warfronts aren't really an activity I focus on, but it's nice to do them once or twice whenever they become active in each cycle.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Island Expeditions in 8.1

Blizzard is changing up how rewards work for Island Expeditions in 8.1:
Currently in Battle for Azeroth, Island Expeditions have a chance to reward cosmetic items based on which type of creatures you and your team defeated. For example, if the island theme of the week was Hozen, there’s a chance to receive one of the Banana toys. If the invaders were Nerubian, you could have a chance to receive the Voru’kar Leecher companion pet (among other things). They way this has worked is by means of a hidden scorecard that counted your group’s efforts against anything on the island that was part of the invaders’ ecology. So if anyone in the group earned some Azerite from killing invaders or mining Azerite near the invaders, everyone in the group had a chance at the cosmetic rewards. That chance grew based on how much invaders’ Azerite was obtained, and was also a higher chance in Heroic and even higher in Mythic difficulty Islands. We set the maximum chance you could earn at a reasonable threshold, in the hopes that players wouldn’t feel that they needed to only kill invaders and not complete the islands in a natural way. 
Of course, that’s not how it worked out. Confusion around the best way to get cosmetics led to a divergence in playstyles, with some players wishing to focus exclusively on hunting specific creatures, while others wished to win the island efficiently to get Azerite. This caused a significant amount of tension between players who had differing goals. 
In Tides of Vengeance, all players on an Expedition will have a chance to receive cosmetic rewards based on the island’s inhabitants, rather than which enemies were specifically defeated. That chance will again be higher on higher difficulties, but there will be no need to strategize around invaders. The most efficient way to receive cosmetic rewards will be whatever tactics cause you to complete the Island quickly, on the highest difficulty that you’re comfortable.
I agree with Blizzard that the two playstyles interacted badly with each other. However, I wish they had chosen the other path to be the default.  Hunting rares and specific enemies is much more fun than speeding to the goal.

What I would have preferred:
  • Expeditions are a fixed time, say 20 minutes.
  • Most Azerite at the end wins the match.
  • Normal creatures do not give Azerite, only named creatures.
  • Many normal creatures become non-hostile.
  • The "invasion" occurs at the half-way mark.
  • No Azerite elementals.
So you can't speed up the expedition, and all you have to do to win is stay ahead of the enemy. Your focus becomes finding named enemies, and doing the mini-events around the island. Then when the invasion occurs, you hunt them down and clear them out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Updates

Here's what I'm up to in the various games I am playing.

World of Warcraft

We're still working on Mythic. Last week was Thanksgiving in the USA, so we basically lost all our raid days and ended up just doing the first two Mythic bosses and several Heroic bosses on one day.

We also probably need to recruit some more. We pulled in a casual for the Mythics, and he hadn't even done them on LFR!  He did manage to stay alive for both fights, so I think we should recruit him.

Other than Mythic Uldir, I'm pretty much waiting on the next patch. I am levelling a warlock alt, currently in Dustwallow Marsh. But I'm not putting a lot of effort into it. Maybe I should try to get into PvP or Mythic Keystone dungeons.

Lord of the Rings Online

I started the Captain, got to the point where you get a Herald, and decided to shelve the Captain. The Herald is just a bit too janky for me.

I ended up rolling a Ministrel. However, on the weekend, I ran into a bug where a quest item in the main prologue quest would not spawn, and that pretty much blocked me from continuing. So I created an Elf Guardian. It's somewhat ironic that I went with the base tank/healer classes after saying I would play what was fun.

The other part I'm deciding about are deeds. I really like how LotRO has deeds which reward you traits like Valor, Compassion, Charity, etc. and you can "equip" those traits to give your character bonuses. I think that's an excellent mechanic, and really emphasises the "goodness" of your character, which is very appropriate for the game.

But deeds are also a little like achievements in that you have to go out of your way, or grind a bit, to finish them. So they're somewhat optional.

Final Fantasy XIV

I haven't really played this much. I got to elemental level 20 in Eureka Anemos, and went to check out Eureka Pagos. But because you can still level in Anemos, most people are levelling there, and there are no challenge log groups in Pagos.

Destiny 2

I haven't played this in a while. There was a 13 GB patch yesterday. It's probably on the way out for me, but maybe I'll give it another whirl.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Alt-based Design and Battle for Azeroth

Shintar has a post reminiscing about SWTOR's Golden Launch Days. In it, she cites the premise of eight different class stories being a attractive factor:
The promise of being able to level at least eight different alts, have it be a totally different experience, and then receive continued updates for all of those unique class stories sounded absolutely amazing. That those plans ultimately weren't sustainable is another matter, but the amount of content to play through at launch was huge. And yet the game ended up with loads of players who just speed-levelled one class to cap and then complained that there weren't enough raids. I don't even know. Though speaking as someone who did raid once I hit the level cap, the first few months were good times for me too. While there was only one operation at launch, Bioware had added three more by the end of the year. It was a golden age of constant content additions.
To me, the SWTOR's experience leads me to believe that alt-based design--design which expects players to play multiple characters--is a losing strategy. I've mentioned this before in the context of SWTOR:
It really looks like alt-based design is not a good strategy. The Old Republic greatly rewards playing alts, with eight different (excellent, in my opinion) class storylines and the entire Legacy system. And yet, judging by the timeline, I would wager that the largest group of people who quit only had one max level character, and the second largest only had two. 
To me, this strongly looks like encouraging alts is a losing strategy. The better strategy for MMO design might be to assume that most people play a single character all of the time. I mean, don't go out of your way to stop people from playing alts, but just design the game assuming that everyone focuses on one character.
With that in mind, let's look at Battle for Azeroth. BfA is an example of alt-based design, with a lot of changes aimed at encouraging people to play alts. The biggest example, of course, is the separate Horde and Alliance stories, with a full three zones for each side.

But there are more examples. For example, there is no Paragon reputation, which would keep people doing World Quests on their mains. There are no Legendaries, which again encouraged play on mains in order to increase the chances of getting one. Allied Races are a big thing, and are implicitly alt-centric. Professions are much simplified, and it's a lot easier to have a stable of alts with fully-maxed professions compared with Legion.

Now personally, I don't mind a lot of these changes. I quite liked seeing both the Horde story and the Alliance story. But I do notice that I am playing my Paladin, less and less. I pretty much raid with her now. And I am less enthused when on an alt.

I think a lot of problems with BfA can be traced back to the decision encouraging alts instead of expecting people to focus on a single main character. BfA has a ton of content. But maybe it would have been better with six common zones that all characters level through.

The pro-alt crowd is very vocal, and constantly complaining about thing like reputation, and locked content, and difficulty of gearing up. But catering to them seems to make the game less satisfying for the majority of the population.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Kotaku's Blizzard Article

Last week, Kotaku ran an article on Blizzard, The Past, Present, and Future of Diablo.

It has lots of interesting tidbits about Diablo's development. Basically Blizzard opted to work on Diablo IV's development instead of a second expansion of Diablo 3. The article presents that as a "bad decision". But honestly, I remember the chatter around around D3 at the time. A lot of the gaming community didn't like the direction of D3, and Reaper of Souls didn't really change that.

It's a bit of revisionist history to say the community loves Reaper of Souls. Yes, it fixed a lot of problems in the base D3, mostly by closing the auction houses and adding the Crusader. But by and large, the people who liked D3 before Reaper liked it afterwards, and the people who didn't like D3 before Reaper still didn't like it afterwards.

So I think the decision to move on from D3 is defensible. As a fan of Diablo 3, it's not what I would have preferred, but it is reasonable.

There are is some interesting information about Diablo IV's development. The first idea, Project Hades, was a Dark Souls variant. Over-the-shoulder perspective. I think it would have failed miserably as Diablo IV. Blizzard ended up cancelling this one too.

The current project is codenamed Fenris. It's a more traditional Diablo, going back to more D2 aesthetic rather than D3. But it's a few years out, so Blizzard isn't saying anything about it publicly.

The most interesting part of the article, though, is the fact that the push for mobiles games is coming from Blizzard senior developers, not the business side. It seems to be a reaction to the very long development cycles for PC games.

An AAA PC game apparently takes a decade to build, and a mobile game takes 1 to 2 years. I can totally see devs wanting to shepard a project from inception to fruition in two years, rather than spend ten years of your life on single game, with a high possibility of seeing it cancelled halfway through. Make five different games rather than one.

The interesting underlying question is why AAA development is taking so long. Is it the art requirements? Is it the game engine that new properties require? Is it just that content creation for expected amount of playtime takes so long? Does iterative development, which Blizzard is famous for, waste too many resources, even if it produces a better game in the end?

We'll see what answers Blizzard comes up with. To be honest, this makes me more interested in Diablo Immortal, and seeing what Blizzard's new team comes up with, even if it is on mobile.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Zandalar

This post contains spoilers for the Horde stories in Battle For Azeroth.

I finally finished the Zandalar and Horde war stories last week on my Blood Elf Warrior.

The Horde stories are decent. I'm not as attached to the Horde as the Alliance, so I didn't think it was quite as good. Also, I think straight-back trolls look weird. They look more like misshapen humans than trolls. I much prefer the traditional Darkspear look.

I did Nazmir first, followed by Vol'dun, and then Zuldazar. In hindsight, the better order would be in reverse, Zuldazar, Vol'dun, and finally Nazmir. Zuldazar in particular really introduces you to the Zandalari.

I did like the Loa, and all the different interactions with them. The star NPC Horde-side, and probably the most memorable overall, was Bwonsamdi. A very interesting personality for a death god, more reminiscent of trickster gods (Coyote, Loki, etc.) than gods of the underworld. Superb voice acting, as well.

Though, this would be the downside of starting in Zuldazar, as Bwonsamdi is introduced properly in Nazmir.

One odd thing is that there is no story connection to the King's Rest dungeon, even though that dungeon seems like it is an important part of main story.

The war story is also interesting, perhaps more so than the Alliance one. Having Derek Proudmoore become Forsaken seems like a vastly important plot point, and it will be interesting to see where Blizzard goes with this.

Zandalar was a very good country, and between it and Kul Tiras, this expansion had an enormous amount of story content.