Friday, July 19, 2024

Spiritborn Unveiled

 Diablo IV unveiled the new class in the upcoming Vessel of Hatred expansion: the Spiritborn.

The reactions online are pretty amusing:

It's just a druid. 

It's just a monk. 

It's just a witch doctor. 

It's just an amazon. 

Harambe!

It clearly draws a little from all these classes. The Aztec Jaguar Warrior motif is very neat. It's not something you see in many games. As well, it is a good mix of the familiar (Eagle, Jaguar) and the unusual (Gorilla, Centipede!).

I'm looking forward to Vessel of Hatred, and will probably give Spiritborn a spin in the first season. (Along with 95% of the game's population.)

Monday, July 15, 2024

Stars Reach Reveal

Raph Koster's upcoming MMO has come out of stealth: Stars Reach.


In stark contrast to most other MMOs these days, Stars Reach is unabashedly a "living world" game, rather than a theme park. It's good to see someone trying for this model again.

There do seem to be complaints about the graphics, though I'm not sure precisely why. Stylized graphics usually age better, and these games are aimed for the long haul. As well, they often have better performance, which is very important for an MMO. MMOs should be playable on a household's second computer, not just the first one.

Scattered thoughts and questions:
  • There's an emphasis on simulation. How will that interact with immortal players who play at very different rates?
  • The idea that "players move fast, goods move slow" is very interesting. Ideally it makes trading and multiple marketplaces and costly arbitrage possible.
  • Combat seems to be primarily ranged, which will be interesting. What will the skeleton of combat look like? Threat-based, free-for-all, or maybe cover-based shooting?
  • Stars Reach is expected to be Free-2-Play and sell cosmetics. Does that mean that the cosmetics will compete with crafters?
  • Having it be based on multiple planets and stars is interesting. It allows the game to shrink or increase for player-size without greatly affecting the player's current planet.
  • The biggest thing is that Stars Reach is going all in on player interaction. This is in strong contrast to WoW and FFXIV who are coming up with more and more ways to avoid playing with others.
All in all, Stars Reach looks like it will be very interesting. A throwback to the days before theme parks. 
But I have the feeling that it will be a niche game, and the question is if the niche will be large enough for the game to survive.

Friday, July 12, 2024

FFXIV Dawntrail, Part 3

This post contains significant spoilers for the FFXIV Dawntrail Main Story Quests.

Let's ignore Wuk Lamat and discuss the rest of the MSQ. Let's start with the villains:

Bakool Ja Ja - a classic over-the-top bad guy. He gets introduced by stepping on our tacos! But it turns out he has a tragic backstory and eventually joins the heroes. Overall, Bakool Ja Ja was pretty good. The only problem with villains like these is that you can't make them do anything unforgivable, and Bakool Ja Ja came pretty close when he released Valigarmada. Probably a slight tweak to that part, maybe having Bakool Ja Ja releasing it so he could fight it, but he fails, would have been better. But overall, he's an enjoyable character.

Zoraal Ja - The problem with inscrutable villains is that they are, well, inscrutable. The player has to read deeply into their behaviour. I've seen really interesting discussions and theories about him, but they all rely on a level of subtlety that is hard to square with Wuk Lamat and the rest of the MSQ. Maybe the idea of Zoraal Ja is stronger than the actual portrayal. He plays his part well enough, but there's a nagging feeling he could have been done better.

Actually, an interesting alternate story would be your character assisting him in the trials, but he still fails and becomes the bad guy.

Sphene - Sphene would have made a much better villain in the next expansion. Her motivations are too close to Emet-Selch: restoring or preserving her people at the expense of other life. And in form and character, she's very close to Meteion. As a result, there is a very similar feel to Endwalker, and it is too soon for that. But if it wasn't for Endwalker, she would have been a very good villain.

The final half involves Alexandria and the conflict between the Alexandrian system and Eorzea. It's an interesting conflict in some ways because Eorzea puts great importance on the soul, but Alexandria puts the importance on the memories, and treats the soul as mere energy. Of course, Alexandria killing people makes it obvious which the right side is. It might have been more interesting if Alexandria was powered by memories, and the invaders didn't kill anyone, but stole their memories instead. It might even fit better with the concept of the regulators taking the memories of those who die.

Looking at the Dawntrail MSQ again, there are the bones of a great expansion. However, the timing is wrong, the themes are too close to the last expansion. And none of the pieces quite fit together smoothly. Nothing matched the high points of previous expansions.

Monday, July 08, 2024

FFXIV Dawntrail, Part 2

This post contains significant spoilers for the FFXIV Dawntrail Main Story Quests.

As always, the Simpson's did it first:
Homer: Whenever Poochie's not on screen, all the other characters should be asking "Where's Poochie"?
Wuk Lamat is the Poochie of Dawntrail. You can't escape her presence. Out of six zones, she's present in five-and-a-half. The half-zone she wasn't present was blissful, until you find yourself tracking down a bracelet that belonged to her. She's almost always the main character talking. If the group splits up, you always go off with her.

Dawntrail manages to reach the nadir in the final trial. Unlike the previous trials with NPCs, it's back to the previous style where you summon a group of fellow players. The fight itself is excellent. We wiped twice, each time to a different mechanic, then mastered it on the next attempt. The fight was perfect up to the 25% mark. Then--like Jack Nicholson in The Shining--Wuk Lamat breaks into the arena. "Here's Wuk Lamat!". She basically makes the fight about her and kill-steals it. Her presence managed to completely ruin the climax of the story.

Dawntrail made me re-evaluate Stormblood. Stormblood felt like two expansions that only had enough content for 75% of a full expansion, so Square stuck them together to make one expansion. But doing this meant that Lyse and Hien balanced each other, and neither one dominated the whole thing.

I don't even think Wuk Lamat is a bad character.  But by the end, I was completely sick of her. The best part of Dawntrail was that half-zone in the middle where you got to run around with just Erenville.

It's really hard to properly evaluate Dawntrail since Wuk Lamat overshadows the entire thing. There are lots of small points one could make, good and bad. But it all seems pointless besides the elephant in the room.

Dawntrail would have been far better if Square had rotated the main NPC. Maybe Wuk Lamat for the first zones, the Erenville, then Krile. But having a single NPC as the "main character" for an entire expansion was an absolute failure, and ruined the story.

Thursday, July 04, 2024

The Evolution of Diablo IV

The one game I have been playing over the last year is Diablo IV. It's been interesting to see how the game has changed since launch and the four seasons so far.

The best way to look at Diablo IV is the conflict between Diablo II and Diablo III. 

It's pretty clear that during development, Blizzard listened to the internet community lauding D2 and looking down on D3. D4 at launch was much closer to D2 and intentionally rejected a lot of the conveniences and power scaling of D3.

So naturally the story of D4 is listening to the community complain about those missing conveniences, and slowly moving D4 closer and closer to D3. More and more posts in the community are calling for an Auction House, of all things!

Now, there are a lot of good things about D4 at launch. The aesthetic was a lot darker than D3, and the player base is happy with that. The performance of the game is closer to D3. And D4 has avoided the one great mistake of D3: armour sets. Armour sets were too vital, and difference in power between getting a set and not was too large. D4 has a smoother power curve.

Season 4 redid a lot of the loot, making it more relevant, and easier to find and get the pieces that you need for your builds. Even the "uber" uniques (will be tagged as Mythic in the next season) have gotten easier and easier to find. It also introduced the Pit, which is basically D3 Greater Rifts.

(Though, to be fair, I've never gotten an uber, I generally stop before that point.)

The big conflict between Blizzard and the vocal community is endgame. Basically, Blizzard wants players  to do a variety of content during their gameplay sessions. Do a Nightmare Dungeon, do a Pit, then maybe kill a couple of bosses. The community, on the other hand, wants to figure out the single optimal activity to get power and spam it 24/7.

It is also interesting that Blizzard allowed trading once more. Now there are people selling items in chat for billions of gold, with probably a lot of gold farming and shady websites selling items for real money. Ironically, though, the high end community seems happy with this. Again, shades of D2.

I think Blizzard is on the right track with Diablo IV. The aesthetic (and trading?) of D2, the gameplay and power of D3, with a bit smoother scaling, is proving to be quite fun. If Blizzard keeps on this track, I think the upcoming expansion should be quite good.

The hard part, of course, is knowing where the line is and keeping from overstepping. For example, I think  an Auction House or class sets would harm the game more than help it.

Monday, July 01, 2024

FFXIV Dawntrail, Part I

Final Fantasy XIV's latest expansion has just launched in early access. The expansion is called Dawntrail, or has I call the first part, The Excellent Adventures of Wuk Lamat.

The story so far is big step back from the world-ending threats of Endwalker. The first part of the story, up to level 94 or so, is set in the continent across the western ocean, Tural. Which is based on South and Central America. You are helping a young claimant to the throne, Wuk Lamat, in a competition to determine the next leader of Tural.

Wuk Lamat is an interesting archetype. The young, naive, good-hearted, airhead. It's a fairly common archetype in Japanese anime, but I'm not really sure it's very attractive to Western eyes. I think we prefer our main characters to be more serious. For example, Stormblood featured a similar claimant to the throne in Hien, but I think Hien worked better for Western sensibilities. The heir in exile, struggling with the weight of his duties.

Which is not to say that Wuk Lamat is a bad character. Just that the airhead-ness sometimes comes across as flippancy, especially very early in the story.

Mechanics-wise, the first part of Dawntrail is an interesting exercise in what happens when you remove fetch quests. As is tradition for these types of competitions, there's lots of arbitrary fetch quests. Except your character does very little of the fetching. Instead the NPCs you are travelling with do all the work. For example, in a previous expansion, you might have to fetch wood and then hunt some animal for dinner. Here, Alphinaud will fetch the wood, and Alisae will do the hunting.

It feels like a very strong reaction to complaints about having to do menial quests in previous expansions.

However, I'm not sure it was a good idea. It doesn't give you much to do. You're basically running your character from cutscene to cutscene, with relatively little opportunity to actually "play" your character. There's still dungeons and the occasional special duty. But the amount of interaction with the world environment and monsters feels unusually limited.

It's quite possible it's a Main Story Quest thing only, and the side-quests have all the interaction one desires. But the game encourages you to save the side-quests for later. Maybe I should consider going back and doing them on a second class before continuing on.

The dungeons and first trial are pretty good. You can actually do the trial with an NPC group this time around, and they've put in some interesting behaviour. For example, the experienced characters always avoid mechanics, but the younger characters get hit the first time they see it.

All in all, the first part of Dawntrail is slower and lighter than previous expansions. It's still pretty good, but I hope it picks up in the next sections.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Overwatch 2

I did play a little of Overwatch 2 when it launched. It's been a long while since I played Overwatch, well before role locks.

I have mixed feelings about the role locks. I pretty much ended playing as a support in all of my games. I kind of feel bad about playing a DPS or tank, and then playing poorly. At least support fewer people want to play.

5v5 is interesting as well. It feels faster-paced than 6v6. I also liked the new Push mode where you have a robot pushing something on both sides of the map. It's a very nice visual representation of progress, especially when you have a game where the robot is flipping from side to side a lot.

Of course, the main topic around Overwatch these days is monetization. Overwatch 2 basically flips the monetization model on its head from Overwatch 1. Overwatch 1 was basically "buy-the-box, earn loot, optionally purchase more loot". Overwatch 2 is "game is free, but you have to buy battle-passes and purchase cosmetics". Probably the various laws against lootboxes from Europe also played a part in this decision. Theoretically you can earn some stuff by playing, but you have to play quite a bit.

To be honest, I think Overwatch 2 should have gone all in. Don't offer the theoretical path, just expect people to pay. Free players get nothing other than the base game, and new heroes only after the season ends. I think that would have at least ended most of the arguments in the community. Rather than the current state where half the community complains about it being too difficult to "earn" rewards, but doesn't want to pay for anything.

I don't know. I'm just tired of people who play for free whining that the game company isn't catering to them enough. Tired of incessant monetization arguments everywhere you look in the game community.