Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Old Republic Goes Free-To-Play

So EA/Bioware has announced that the old Republic will go Free-to-Play later this year. As a current subscriber, I'm somewhat disappointed. I don't really like F2P games, and I don't think they end up in a good spot. Maybe I'll write a longer post on F2P later.

The structure of the F2P option is interesting. Levels 1 through 50 are free, and you get a limited number of flashpoints and warzones per week. Operations are reserved for subscribers. There's a pretty clear division where they're hoping that transient players are attracted by F2P, and the extended players stay on subscription.

What I expect--though it's not explicitly stated--is that the free player will only get 1 character slot, and will have to pay to unlock more slots. This way TOR gets money from the people who want to see multiple class stories, which are the major selling point of the game.

It's possible that TOR will end up putting more emphasis on raids, because those players are the dependable revenue stream. The people who pay the bills call the shots. This might end up being a good thing for raiders.

Though, maybe all the raiders will end up dropping their subscriptions. The thing is that the raiding in TOR is decent, but the class stories are the major attraction. Right now, you have to sub to get both aspects. When it goes F2P, it might better for an extended player to switch to another game for raiding, while maintaining TOR in a F2P mode to finish the class stories at leisure.

Basically, I don't think the marginal value of TOR raiding is worth a subscription.  Class story plus raiding, definitely worth it. But not raiding alone.

I am rather leaning to that plan at the moment. I was having an internal debate about what to do when Mists of Pandaria comes out, but now my plan is pretty set. Drop the TOR subscription, and maybe leave it installed and play the class stories. But if I want to raid, I'll raid in Pandaria.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Operations in The Old Republic

I've been trying out some of the raids--or operations, as they're called--in The Old Republic.  TOR now has three raids: Eternity Vault, Karagga's Palace, and Explosive Conflict. So far, I've tackled the first and last instances on Story Mode difficulty.

(As an aside, it's interesting how good a word "raid" is. It's short and sweet. You can use "raider" and "raiding" easily. Compare to "operation".)

TOR raids follow roughly the same formula. There are 5 bosses per raid. One boss will be a "puzzle" boss. The first bosses are reasonably simple in terms of mechanics, while the final fight will be a complex multi-stage fight. There are two or three difficulties: Story, Hard, and Nightmare. Only the first two instances have Nightmare mode, the latest one does not have it.  I've only seen Story Mode mode, and I would say that it is definitely harder than LFR, maybe a bit easier than T11 or T12 normal mode.

The step up in difficulty of the last boss is pretty funny if you aren't expecting it. In Eternity Vault, it was a bit like going from a Molten Core boss to Kael'thas in T5. Exaggerating a bit, but it's definitely a large jump in complexity.

Loot-wise, I think TOR's system is much more sensible than WoW's. Hard Mode drops a specific tier of gear. Hard Mode flashpoints drop Tionese, Eternity Vault drops Columni, Karagga's Palace drops Rakata, and Explosive Conflict drops Black Hole. Then Story Mode has gear from the previous tier, except the last Story Mode boss drops current tier gear.  Then there's all sorts of commendations flying around, and bits and pieces from each tier can be gotten from specific commendations.

As far as I can tell, Nightmare Mode drops come from a future tier or include mounts, etc. It seems more for challenge or bragging rights.

It is a little complicated with the tokens/commendations, but I find it much simpler than having three levels of gear per tier, and having LFR gear obsolete the previous tier in WoW. It does feel like there's more of a sense of progression, where you move through the tiers as you gear up.

One of the interesting things about TOR is that each player has five companions that they can gear up. So loot that isn't taken by a player is often taken for a companion or stripped for the individual mods that make up the item. This is a lot less waste, and makes gearing up new players easier.

The "puzzle" bosses are a neat twist. This is a boss or event where part of the raid has to solve a simple puzzle. In Eternity Vault it's a very simple pattern matching puzzle, a bit like a Rubik's Cube. In Karagga's Palace it's a Towers of Hanoi puzzle which debuffs the boss. One of the interesting things about these fights is that poor performance on the puzzles is not necessarily a wipe. It makes the fight longer and maybe harder, but still beatable.

 TOR does have a raid finder for the first two story modes, but it isn't exactly fully transient the way LFR is. You still get locked out, and then you can only join a group which has bosses that you haven't killed. But you can specify to only join fresh groups which haven't killed anything. The downside of this is that if your raid does break up, it becomes very hard to replace people and finish the instance.

As well, TOR doesn't have mods, so you just have to work with the built-in UI and emotes. For the most part, this isn't any issue. However, TOR does suffer from the standard problem with tracking the vital buffs and debuffs. I wonder if an MMO will ever handle vital debuffs well. The Secret World makes an interesting attempt with only having four possible debuff states that matter, and then keying off those four.

All in all, raiding in The Old Republic is a lot of fun. Five solid bosses with some decent trash makes for a nice two to three hour night. There's a good mix of mechanics and difficulty. The bosses are varied and interesting. The multi-stage final boss fights are a good capstone fight for the instance or the night.

Now, if you don't like raids at all, you probably won't like operations in TOR. But if you do like raiding, TOR's operations are worth checking out.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cosmetic Gear Systems

It seems like cosmetic gear has won the battle. Almost all games include the ability to change a character's appearance without affecting a character's stats. The days where you could look at a character and visually identify what they had achieved or their power level are gone. However, it's interesting that there are at least four separate cosmetic gear systems in use in modern MMOs. Let's compare each one.

1. Transmogrification

Used by Blizzard, TERA.

In this solution, an individual item's appearance is changed to look like something else. The changed appearance is tied to the item. Advantages are that this makes a sort of sense within the fiction of the game world. As well, it is easy to tie different appearances to your different gear sets. You can have one look for dps gear, and one look for healing gear, and when you swap gear, your outfit automatically swaps.

The disadvantage is that because it is tied to your gear, every time you get a new item, you have to transmogrify it to get your look back. You also have to keep the old items around, and the process is a bit complicated compared to some of the other solutions. As well, each work set corresponds to one and only one cosmetic set. You can't switch between two different looks while wearing your healing gear, without re-transmogrifying everything.

2. Mods

Used by The Old Republic.

In this solution, the visual armor is a shell, and the stats come from mods which are inserted into the armor. Again, an advantage is that it make sense within the game world. It can tie into the crafting system, as there are now mods as well as armor to create. As well, it's fairly easy to upgrade pieces. Just rip out the mods from a new item and put them in the old item. A final advantage is that this doubles as a "reforging" system, because you can adjust stats simply by switching up the mods.

For disadvantages, again, it is a little complicated. Like transmog, each work set matches to one and only one cosmetic appearance. It's also pretty hard to compare gear in this system, as you have to compare each individual mod as well as the whole item. A last disadvantage is that set bonuses are a bit weird, because the set bonus is usually tied to the armor shell, and the mods are more generic.

3. Non-Visible Power Items

Used by The Secret World, Champions Online.

In this system, character power usually comes from non-visual items like trinkets or jewelry. The character's clothes are completely cosmetic. Advantage here is that it makes sense in the game world. As well, cosmetic outfits are completely decoupled from power outfits. What you are wearing has nothing to do with your power.

The disadvantage is that trinkets and jewelry are often unexciting. Very visual pieces like weapons and armor are often desired. They pack a 1-2 punch of good visuals combined with good stats. Also, an older piece of armor can carry memories, and reusing those older pieces can be a nod back to a previous time. For example, T2 Judgement is not just a great looking set, it's a reminder of the good times in Blackwing Lair. As well, while in the other systems you can choose to forego the cosmetic gear, and display your true set, in this system you can't. You have to pick a cosmetic outfit to wear.

4. Cosmetic Slots

Used by Rift, TERA, and LotRO.

In this solution, the character sheet simply has a second (or more) set of item slots. Items in the cosmetic slots are displayed, while items in the regular slots contribute stats. The big advantage is that this system is simple, easy to understand, and easy to use. The cosmetic set is decoupled from the work set. You can switch your cosmetic set without affecting your work set, and upgrade your work set without changing your look. Item comparison still functions correctly.

The major disadvantage is that this system makes no sense in the context of the world. Are you wearing two helms or two pants? It's a very gamist solution to the problem, and you just ignore the oddity of wearing multiple helms. The other options at least attempt to nod to the simulation.


Those are the cosmetic gear systems that I know about. In general, if you have to have cosmetic gear, I think straight cosmetic slots is the best solution. It's easy to understand and very simple to use in practice. Cosmetic armor slots parallel the regular armor slots. You can keep your power set while switching between multiple cosmetic sets. You can keep your cosmetic set while switching between multiple power sets.

The wearing of multiple helms is a bit weird, but it can be handwaved, and more or less ignored. Personally, it does not affect my suspension of disbelief. Your mileage may vary, however.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Hidden Sting of a Personal Spaceship

Sometimes I wonder if The Old Republic managed to incur an ancient voodoo curse during its development. It feels like almost every design decision they made carried a hidden sting, an aspect that would later come back to bite them.

Take your personal spaceship, for example. Fairly early in the class storyline, at about level 20 or so, each class gets a spaceship. They use this spaceship to travel around the galaxy. As well, all your companions are located on the ship, and it's where you talk to them and continue their individual storyline. The ship exists in game, and is usually found in a hangar in the planetary spaceport. It's very Millennium Falcon, and very much a part of Star Wars.

However, the downside of the personal ship is that it makes travel very tedious. To travel from one planet to another, you have to go to the hangar, board your ship, travel to destination, leave the ship, leave the hangar.

As well, sometimes the planet doesn't have a true spaceport with multiple hangars. To get around this, TOR puts the hangars on a space station in orbit. So the worst case scenario becomes something like:

  1. Take shuttle from planet to station.
  2. Go to hangar and board ship.
  3. Fly to destination.
  4. Leave ship for station.
  5. Take shuttle from station to planet.

It actually takes a fair bit of time, and involves multiple loading screens. I think that TOR recently patched an option on some planets to compress steps 1 and 2.

This process is fine while you're levelling, because you don't actually travel from planet to planet that often. But then at 50, you might actually travel a fair bit, to do the dailies on different planets, or to go to the Fleet to use the markets or buy gear.

Now, imagine if TOR didn't have a spaceship at all. What would travel have looked like?

I think it probably would have been something like clicking on a shuttle at a spaceport brings up the interstellar map, and then you travel to the destination spaceport directly. One step and only one loading screen. It would make your day-to-day life at endgame so much easier.

Having a personal ship is pretty cool, but it comes at a cost, and makes the endgame far more annoying than it should be.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shocking Paladin News from Beta!

Blizzard has changed the spelling of Judgement to "Judgment"!

Confirmation from Ghostcrawler himself can be found here.

Damn Yankees and their laziness. Dropping perfectly good letters from words. Rush, rush, rush, but are you really getting anywhere?

In seriousness, paladins with macros might have to watch out when Pandaria or 5.0 hits. It's likely that any macros invoking "Judgement" will stop working.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Running Flashpoints in The Old Republic

I've been playing The Old Republic for most of the past week. I've been gearing up my Imperial Agent with the small group flashpoints, using the new Looking For Group tool, as well as dailies.  I've really enjoyed the process so far. TOR is a great small group game, and a lot of this pre-raid game emphasizes that.

TOR also has benefited incredibly from the server mergers and larger-pop servers. It is a game that really needs that mass of people on the same server. There are lots of small group quests, and being able to quickly get a group in local chat makes a huge difference. As well, being able to fill out your group with companions makes grouping, especially for the [HEROIC 2+] quests, a lot easier.

Making the LFG server-only was an interesting move. I'm not totally sure that it's a big difference maker, but even after just running LFG for a week as DPS, I'm beginning to see familiar faces.  Groups are mostly good and nice, which matches my experience with WoW as well.

I even ran an instance today, Lost Island, which came out in 1.2, with a group of people who had never run it before. We wiped on all the bosses, but generally figured out everything and eventually completed the instance successfully. It was a great experience, and one that I haven't had in a great while.

Funniest moment in that run: we're fighting a boss with a knockback that drops us into the lava. There's a force field bridge that goes to the boss's platform. The healer theorizes that maybe we're supposed to get knocked up the bridge, so he stands on it. Fight starts, bridge disappears, and the healer falls into the lava.

There have been a couple bad groups. Last time I discussed the Group Finder in WoW, I facetiously remarked that maybe it was the healers who caused problems in groups, and since I always healed, I never saw the drama queens and always had good groups.

After running instances as DPS, I'm inclined to think that maybe there's a grain of truth in that. I had one group where the healer got upset at our strategy, and ran away from a boss fight as it was started, causing a wipe. The healer then left the group. After waiting a few minutes in LFG, we pulled out a companion healer and beat the fight.

(You can't do that often, this time it was because both DPS could CC the two main adds, greatly reducing the damage flying around.)

That's really the only negative experience I've had with the Group Finder in TOR. For the most part, the Hard Mode flashpoints are fairly easy, comparable to Wrath or post-nerf Cataclysm heroics.

That's not to say that the Group Finder has made everything perfect though. There's still a fairly long wait for DPS, on the order of 20 to 30 minutes. As well, the Group Finder dumps you outside the instance entrance when you're finished, usually leaving you a fair distance away from where you were before starting. Travel in TOR is a bit of pain, with multiple load screens, so this can get annoying.

The other unfortunate interaction is between TOR's daily group quests and the Group Finder. Each area with dailies also has one or more repeatable daily group quests. It's usually fairly easy to get a group for these quests. But the problem is that you have to leave the Group Finder queue in order to group up for the dailies, starting the queue all over again when you finish the group daily.

The reason behind this behaviour is fairly straightforward. You don't want people leaving a group in the middle of something because they got an instance group.

What would be nice is if the Group Finder "paused" if you joined a group, and then re-inserted you at the same position when you left that group. Like if you start at position 300, eventually get to position 100 after 20 minutes, then join a group for a daily. Group Finder removes you from the queue. After finishing the daily and leaving the group, Group Finder re-inserts you at position 100, and the queue continues, rather than having to start over at position 300.

But still, these problems are relatively minor. The Group Finder works, and has made TOR a much better game.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Do I Like Attunements?

I've been reading a lot of posts about attunements, and I got to thinking about why exactly I like attunements.

The major reason is that I don't really like the gear game. I don't like making Best-In-Slot lists, or debating exactly what gear I need off what bosses. I just run stuff, and if something drops, I take it if it is better than what I have. My gear tends to evolve organically.

A good attunement chain or questline gives me a reason to run dungeons. It's something that I'm working towards, rather than my average gear ilevel hitting some minimum threshold.  I do like beating every boss once, but after that you're just doing dungeons to prep for the next boss, or for social reasons.

I like having that extra goal to work towards.

Another element that was kind of similar were the old 8-piece class sets. I like collecting class sets, and don't mind running dungeons multiple times to get the set. I'm not really sure why this is different from running dungeons to get a pre-defined Best-In-Slot set, but it just is. Perhaps its the difference between making your character more powerful versus just collecting sets.

Perhaps it's just that Lightforge was so awesome. (Still in my bank!)

It just seems like in Wrath and Cataclysm, you ran 5-mans in order to make your character more powerful, so you could tackle raids. While in Vanilla and TBC, making your character more powerful was a secondary goal. You ran 5-mans to work on your attunements, or to collect your class set, or work on your class mount quest. And almost as a side-effect, your character got more powerful.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Attunements, Years Later

WoW Insider and Klepsacovic are arguing about attunements. I started writing a response, but realized that I had already written it five years ago, all the way back in 2007.

A lot of the trouble with the discussion about attunements is that there are actually four or so separate types of attunements, and each has different pros and cons. But everyone conflates all the types, and mixes them up, so it seems like they are talking past each other.  A pro from one type gets countered by a con from a completely separate type.

Here are the types of attunements, as I see them:

Class A: Only one person needs a key for the instance.

Examples are Keys for UBRS, Eye of Eternity, Nightbane in Karazhan

The main advantage of this class is that you can take people who aren't attuned in the group, while still gating access on the whole.

The disadvantages are that if the attunement is too long or difficult, then no one does the attunement, instead relying on someone else to do it. Vanilla WoW players will remember "LF1 UBRS, must have key". If the attunement is too easy and a large portion of the population has it, then it might as well not be there, until you hit the unexpected situation where no keyed person happens to be in the raid. It also makes the raid very dependent on the presence of the keyholder. No keyholder, no raid.

Finally, a group may "purchase" an unlock from someone else, effectively bypassing the gating. Not to mention that I don't think this method can work with an automatic group finder. How could you sign up for a raid if your access depends on someone else in your group?

Class B: Non-raid quest line is required to unlock the instance.

Examples are Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, Karazhan attunements.

The advantages are that you can work on your attunement on your own time. It also ensures that the player does a minimum amount of previous content before they can raid. It's a really good answer the question, "Am I ready for this raid?" A new max level player can also be powered through the questline.

The main disadvantage is that an absolute fresh 80 cannot be brought into the raid at all. Each character must be attuned. As well, if the attunement chain is long, then redoing it on alts becomes rather frustrating.

Class C: Defeating previous raid bosses is required to unlock future raid bosses.

Examples are needing Kael and Vashj to unlock T6 in TBC.

The advantage is that you can't skip hard bosses to progress. Raid progression is "hardcoded" for individual raiders.

The disadvantages are that it causes a lot of problems with raid composition, even before we look at recruiting. The thing is that you want to attune your entire raiding force, including your people on the bench, not just the 25 people in the instance at the time of your first kill. Otherwise, you can't actually progress to the next instance, because odds are you'll have to replace at least one person on your next night of raiding.

As well, it causes large problems with recruiting. Basically, it's very hard to work on attunement on your own, you have to rely on the group to attune you. So already attuned players become very valuable, and guilds have to keep running old content in their limited raid time to attune new players or alts.

Class D: Running old content multiple times eventually unlocks new content.

An example is gating by reputation, like the TBC heroics, where you needed Revered reputation to buy the keys.

The advantage is that you can almost certainly guarantee that people will be properly geared and prepared for the next level of content.

The disadvantage is that it can seem repetitive and grindy (Lower City rep, anyone?). An artifical roadblock to make you waste time. Also this scheme usually has the longest time between hitting max level and actually being able to enter the instance, and people might get bored and drop out early. Personally, I don't think I ever got all my TBC keys.


I actually like Class B attunements. I enjoyed the MC, BWL, and Karazhan questlines, and rather miss them. They provided direction for a new max-level character, instead of having to figure out if your gear was "good enough". Sure, they had some issues (Rexxar, where are you?), and occasionally not being able to take someone to a raid because they where not attuned hurt. Of course, if that happened, the player was always attuned by next week, often with the help of some of other raiders.

By and large, I thought Class B attunements worked. They made the game between leveling and raiding more interesting, gave it more purpose rather than simply gearing up. I would not mind seeing them brought back in a future expansion.

But for Class A,C, and D attunements, I think their problems outweigh their advantages. I think the game is better for having gotten rid of them.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Return To The Old Republic

With Mass Effect behind us, I've resubscribed to The Old Republic. I've also took the opportunity to uninstall Mass Effect 2 and 3, and especially Origin. Getting rid of Origin brought a smile to my face.

I was thinking about The Secret World, but I feel that I left The Old Republic "unfinished." Plus, this will give some time for The Secret World to work out all the bugs, before I give it a real whirl.

(Though, there is something about being in a game at launch, discussing and writing about it early. Before the game becomes solved.)

I ended up deleting all my alternate characters, and only transferred my 50 Imperial Agent to the new high-pop server. Sadly, my name was taken, so I had to use an different name. I decided to start a new Jedi Knight to ease back into the game.

I think that TOR has improved by leaps and bounds. In particular, their performance optimization team has done a spectacular job. Basic engine performance is miles better than it was at release. As well, there are lots of people on the new server, making the game seem vibrant and alive. Lots of chat too, even with TOR's flood of system messages.

The Legacy system has been fleshed out, and has all sorts of options. I haven't really explored much here.

I haven't really gotten a chance to try the group finder yet. My 50 is DPS, so the queues are very long. Plus I don't really remember how to play her, so I'll have to re-learn everything. I'm also not too sure what the path in endgame is like.

Still, I like the improved TOR so far. We'll have to see if I can get into its endgame, though.