Tuesday, July 09, 2019

FFXIV Shadowbringers MSQ Review

This post contains significant spoilers for Shadowbringers.

I finished the Main Story Quest for FFXIV: Shadowbringers last night. I have mixed feelings on it. I should note that everyone else seems to be raving about the story, and are extremely happy about the expansion. So I appear to be out of step with the community at large.

When I see a new story or game, there are two dimensions along which I evaluate it: execution, and ambition. And perhaps I value ambition too highly. I'd rather see something where the creators aim high, and stumble. Of course, the best works are those which combine the two successfully.

Shadowbringers is a case of superb execution, but also far less ambition than the previous expansions. And that makes Shadowbringers somewhat of a disappointment to me.

I should start off with the good. The small moments, the characterisation, the interactions with the Scions, the dungeons and trials, all are absolutely excellent. The best FFXIV has ever been.

However, suppose I told you a story about a demon invasion. The demons invaded, conquered the lands, and magically created an eternal night. People wandering outside might get attacked and killed by roaming demons. Demons sometimes transform their prey into new demons. The hero needs to lift the night by killing the demon lords. There's one human kingdom which allies with the demons. None of the kingdoms are particularly new or interesting, mostly because they're all remnants of older kingdoms from before the invasion.

This is a pretty cliche fantasy story. One that's been done many times. Yet this is exact same story of the first 80% of Shadowbringers, only with a palette swap. Instead of being shown as "demons", the enemies are shown as "angelic". Instead of eternal night, it's an eternal day. Only there is zero difference in behavior. The change is only skin-deep.

The last 20% is an Ascian story. But it did not feel much different than the Lahabrea story from ARR. The execution was superb, true, with a great villain and set-pieces. But ultimately it was just a retread of what had happened before. There were moments where I thought the Ascian would do something new, take the story in a different direction, and break new ground. But ultimately that never happened, and everything fell into the old patterns.

I would rate Heavensward as the best expansion, then Stormblood, then Shadowbringers, and finally ARR. Stormblood stumbled a bit in execution, but I thought it was more interesting and more ambitious than Shadowbringers.

Monday, July 01, 2019

FFXIV Shadowbringers Dungeon Trust System

This post may contain minor spoilers for FFXIV: Shadowbringers. I am trying avoid major ones, though.

Final Fantasy XIV launched early access for its latest expansion, Shadowbringers, this weekend. I'm still in the middle of the story, so no comments on that yet. However, I thought I'd take a look at one of the new systems introduced: Trusts for dungeons.

The new 4-man dungeons in Shadowbringers can be done entirely with NPCs. The NPCs available depend on the story line leading to the dungeon. All the roles are covered, though, so the player can choose any role.

I've done the first three dungeons using the Trust system, playing as a tank. In general it works quite well. The NPCs do mechanics correctly, they move out of AoEs, and stack appropriately. It's actually pretty useful, as you can just mimic them if you don't know what to do for a particular mechanic. You cannot give the NPCs any orders, they just do their thing, as if you were playing with other players.

There's also no queue time for the dungeons when using a Trust. It works better with the story, as using the same NPCs makes it feel more seamless, and allows SE to add appropriate commentary.

SE also tried to add some personality into how the NPCs do things. For example, there's one fight which creates a chasm between the party and the boss. There's a thin zig-zagging bridge you can use to cross the chasm. One NPC, who's something of a hothead, just ran across the bridge with no hesitation. Another one, a magic-user, used a personal teleport spell to get across. The third NPC is timid, and she slowly and hesitantly walked across. She did not make it across before the rest of us finished that mechanic.

So why play with normal people instead of using a Trust? The biggest difference is that the NPCs are slow and have lower DPS. They do not AoE at all, and single-target everything. Even in pulls which have eight small things, and are quintessential AoE pulls, the NPCs will kill one by one. It isn't that bad, as they will focus the same target, and are generally very predictable, so tanking is easy.

The first dungeon I did with a Trust took 35 minutes, with no wipes. I estimate it would have taken around 25 minutes with a normal group of players. So using the NPC Trust increases the time taken by 50% or so. However there is no queue time.

As a result of this, I think people will be very happy to use Trusts for the first time through the dungeon, while doing the story. But after that, when leveling other classes, they'll probably choose to play with other people. A few people--who really don't want to play with others--will stick with Trusts. It was pretty clever of SE to use time as the factor to separate players and NPCs, while ensure that ultimate success is still the likely outcome.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

8.2 Nazjatar

World of Warcraft released patch 8.2, Rise of Azshara, this week. It introduced two new zones, Nazjatar and Mechagon. You go to Nazjatar first. I haven't really started Mechagon, so these are just impressions of Nazjatar.

Nazjatar is an interesting zone. The story line unlocks a faction which you ally with. For Alliance, it's the Waveblade Ankoan, who are basically fish-men. There are a lot of quests, and things to find and unlock.

Gameplay-wise, the zone is a combination of dailies and world quests, which actually work fairly well together. A lot of the dailies are more general, like "kill 15 Naga", which you can do anywhere on the island. You also choose one of three Ankoan companions who fight alongside you, and have three specific daily quests to level up. So you try to do dailies and World Quests at the same time, completing the dailies on the way to and from the World Quests.

I chose the hunter companion, who honestly comes across as a bit emo. I think I'll try the shaman next.

The combination of having some quests which are tied to a specific location, and others which are more general, is very good. It allows you to play a mini-optimising game with your quests each day.

There's also lots of puzzle quests in Nazjatar. Everyone was complaining about this one where you have to rescue someone by bouncing on jellyfish. I thought it was pretty easy, as I one-shot it. Maybe it was beginner's luck, but all you need to do is turn and face the next platform/jellyfish as you are being bounced.

Nazjatar also has Benthic armour, which you can buy and upgrade with the currency found in the zone. I'm not entirely certain if it's something a raider should pursue, or if it's mostly for solo players, alts, and filling in holes. I blew most of my currency on fixing an Abyssal device, which doesn't seem to do anything, but might be used in crafting later. So gear is mostly moot for me at this point.

One thing is that the armour is random, but whatever stats it has is maintained as it upgrades. So it's possible that the ideal is gambling until you get a piece with the best secondaries and a socket, and then upgrading that. The initial armour is very cheap as well, which lends itself to this strategy.

Edit: Apparently the secondaries and special Benthic bonuses are fixed for each item slot. All belts have the same secondaries and Benthic bonus, etc. So if you want to gamble, it's really only for tertiary stats like leech and sockets.

Second Edit: Apparently the above is not quite right. Some slots have multiple "types" of Benthic armor. Each type has specific secondaries and bonuses. Like there are three different plate legs.

All in all, Nazjatar is a pretty interesting zone, with a variety of activities. It should be interesting to see how things unfold, especially as there is a second zone to balance it out.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Worrying Sign for Classic?

My latest experiences in the WoW Classic Beta have made me more pessimistic about the success of the WoW Classic. To wit, the early zones, Elywnn Forest and Westfall, are already dead. Honestly, they died faster than many of the other "failed" MMOs which I've tried.

I ended up deleting all the characters I made and started fresh with a Priest. There are very few (like on the order or 5 or less) people in Elywnn Forest. Local chat is completely dead.  I got up to Hogger, and then spent time on the weekend going, "LFG Hogger".  After three different sessions, I finally got a level 9 dwarf hunter to take pity on me and we teamed up and killed Hogger.

Westfall is pretty much the same. There isn't even anyone just hanging out in Goldshire. In Retail, there's always people dueling or jumping around in Goldshire.

Classic is a game which requires other people. If there are no other people around, it becomes a very frustrating experience.

Now, maybe everyone is on higher level characters, and focusing on them. Though Stormwind was pretty empty as well. Maybe people aren't playing because it is Beta, and they're saving their powder for when Classic launches.

I guess my advice to people thinking about Classic is to make sure you do not miss the initial wave of players. If you fall behind, Classic will rapidly become a lot less fun.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Classic Stress Test Thoughts

Blizzard started a stress test for Classic yesterday, where anyone in NA with a WoW subscription could try Classic. The servers will be up for a day or two, if you didn't get to try Classic out.

I found the test quite funny. Blizzard was clearly testing their server stability, as they put way too many people in the zone for game-play purposes. I made a mage, and I had a lot of trouble finishing the very first quest. I'd start casting a Fireball at a kobold, and someone would tag it before the cast finished.

In the end, I resorted to running up to the kobold, hitting it with my staff to tag it, and only then start casting Fireballs.

The conversation in the zone was very lively, and everyone was remarking how this was totally unlike retail servers where it's silent. That's true, but the Beta servers were like that at the start, and now they're dead silent.

If I was making an MMO, I would strongly consider adding a world chat channel that everyone on the server is in.  There's a critical mass of people necessary to get chat going. For zone chat, it really only exists in the starting zones, and really only at launch.

Or maybe, like Blizzard is having layers for the world, have "layers" for chat that expand and contract depending on the number of people. Maybe the game starts with one chat for the starting zone, and all the other zones have the same chat. Then as people starting levelling up, maybe the first two zones share the same chat, and so on.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Classes in an Alternate Burning Crusade

Continuing on from my previous post on races, another major mistake The Burning Crusade expansion made was with classes. Specifically allowing Alliance Shamans and Horde Paladins.

I've discussed this before, but I think that the Alliance in particular lost a lot of its identity when the Horde got paladins. Especially as the Silver Hand opened up to both factions, but the Horde had separate orders for the Blood Knights and Sunwalkers.

In an alternate TBC, paladins could stay Alliance, and shamans could stay Horde. As long as Blessing of Salvation (and the equivalent totem) is removed, there would be no real imbalance.

Then, assuming an alternate Wrath comes along, perhaps the Horde could get Death Knights, and the Alliance gets Demon Hunters (since both Night Elves and Blood Elves are Alliance in my alternate timeline).

I think reinforcing the faction division mechanically, with different classes that play significantly different, would be a much better path. WoW chose to homogenise the factions. In the long run, I think that was not a good decision.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Personal Loot Needs an 'Any Specialization' Option

Quick thought from raiding tonight. Personal Loot needs an 'Any Specialization' option.

Right now, you can choose 'Current Specialization' or pick a specific specialization. But at this point in farming, an 'Any' option would be really nice. If you're a Holy Paladin, you might get a Ret weapon, or a Prot trinket, without giving up the chance to get a Warforged Holy item.

The other option is basically switching loot specializations on all the different bosses, which is rather fiddly. As well, it's unfortunate when one specific boss has items from different specs, and you have choose which spec to forego.

Perhaps a small change, but I think it would make Personal Loot a bit better.