Sunday, May 31, 2015

SWTOR: Smuggler Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Smuggler story in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I finished up the last class story: the Republic Smuggler. I played a somewhat Light Side female Scoundrel DPS.

The Smuggler story is pretty good. It is more of a comedy than the other stories, with lots of funny lines. The main NPCs are quite good, as are all your companions. Special mention goes to Bowdaar, the Wookie, who is just awesome. I used Bowdaar as my main companion pretty much as soon as I got him. It just nails the Han Solo and Chewbacca dynamic, and has some brilliant lines:
"Stealth? Why do I need stealth? I have a Wookie."
Ability-wise, the Scoundrel was quite fun. Stealth and punching people, while pulling out a shotgun for special moves. Dirty Kick is the greatest stun in MMO history, and just so perfectly Smuggler. (You kick the enemy in the crotch, he keels over for a few seconds.)

The bad guys are all very well done. Skavak, Rogun, and the Voidwolf were good antagonists.

It does feel like this story was primarily written for a male character, though. There seemed to an above-average number of female NPCs, probably written as [Flirt] targets. I don't know if that is entirely true, though, or if I am just seeing a pattern where none exists.

There were a reasonable number of [Flirt] targets for the female smuggler. Special mention for the Voss romance. About 3/4 of the way through the planet, the NPC suddenly mentions he has a wife. Though you have the option of continuing to flirt, you can try to backtrack out. But it's too late, as the NPC has already fallen in love, and the rest of the planet is very awkward. (Bowdaar laughs at you a lot here.) It was pretty funny and well-written.

If there is a flaw in the Smuggler story, it's that it is not really memorable. There's no deeper level to the story. It's like a popcorn flick. You go to the theater and you enjoy yourself thoroughly. But the moment you step outside, the movie is gone from your mind.

I'd class it in the same tier as the Consular, Warrior, and Knight stories, though closer to the bottom. It doesn't have the flaws of the Inquisitor, or Trooper, even if it isn't as memorable.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Wildstar Goes F2P

The latest news is that Wildstar will be converting to Free-2-Play this fall. It's sort of sad that it never got traction, but at the same time it is sort of expected.

I played Wildstar in the Beta, but never signed up after launch. Pretty much everyone has theories about why Wildstar failed. Personally I blame the swearing on level up.

Another explanation might be that the default gameplay action combat style was too intense for a long-term MMO. Or that the base difficulty was pitched too high, making group content really difficult. Or that the attunements required for endgame were overly grindy. Or that the classes were uninspired and boring.

(But really, it was the bleeped profanity.)

However, it was a game worth trying, and at least F2P means that a lot of people will get to try it out. The housing system is supposed to be excellent.

I really wonder if we'll ever see a Sci-Fi MMO setting again. At least a third-person single-character style one. Other than Eve Online, the track record for Sci-Fi MMOs is pretty dismal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No Flight, Part 2

Azuriel feels that Blizzard has unstated reasons behind cutting flight:
So here’s my theory: Blizzard is removing flying to cut future production costs. 
In a world without flying, or restricting flying to specific areas, Blizzard is free to replace large swaths of the map with 2D sprites and skyboxes. This is the exact reason why you still cannot fly in Silvermoon City: the city outside the narrow roads simply doesn’t exist. Stormwind had the same issue prior to Cataclysm, if you’ll recall, but they did spend the manpower to construct a fully 3D space. They had to, because otherwise every character with a flying mount would immediately see the seams of the gameworld.

I think resorting to conspiracy theories is excessive. Let's just take Blizzard at face value, and accept that they don't like the way flying changes the game.

It's not like this attitude towards flight comes out of the blue. In TBC, the very expansion which gave us flying, we also got Sunwell Isle. Sunwell Isle was a max-level open world questing area where flight was prohibited. Raids and instanced content have never permitted flight. Some of them, like Firelands, were large enough and open enough to allow it.

PvP zones have never allowed flight. If the PvE gameplay issues with flight aren't bad, why are the PvP ones so much worse?

So from the very beginning, max-level content has not really coexisted with flight. Occasionally it's allowed, but very often it's prohibited.

However, I really liked this article from Matthew Rossi at Blizzardwatch. He argues that Blizzard "is absolutely right — flying detracts from gameplay in a host of ways. But taking it away from the player base is worse."

Flying is such a great reward, precisely because it is so powerful, that players love it. The sense of freedom, of being unbound from the 2-D world is very potent. For that reason alone, it should be kept as a reward for reaching max-level, and we should just live with gameplay issues.

I think this point of view makes a great deal of sense. That the sheer reward of flying outweighs the gameplay issues it brings.

Blizzard should bring back flying for max-level content, but try to make it a bit less convenient, while keeping as much of the feeling of reward as possible. In particular, I would single out the ability to hover as what causes the most gameplay issues with flight. I wonder if simply having flying mounts always be moving forward would be enough to keep them in check.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

No Flying in Warlords Entire

Blizzard confirmed that there will be no flying in WoD for the entirety of the expansion.

As I said in the discussion of the subscription drop, we can infer what Blizzard's numbers are telling them by their subsequent actions. This is a clear signal that Blizzard thinks that people will not unsubscribe because of the lack of flight. That they believe the expansion is stronger and more attractive without flight, and that their internal numbers are backing that view.
That in turn implies that for most people, lack of flight is not a deal-breaker. 

Personally, as I've mentioned before, I don't think flight has been good for the game. In fact, going over my older posts, I found this post from The Burning Crusade, about two weeks after I hit 70 and got my flying mount. It's kind of amusing to look back at it now, as it nailed the play-style changes and some concerns for future development:
Now with a flying mount, [questing is] very different. 
Step 1: Aerial Recon - Scout out the location and find the quest mob.
Step 2: Paradrop in - Hover directly above the quest mob and dismount so you fall to the ground right there.
Step 3: Kill the target, get the quest item.
Step 4: Jump out - mount up and take off.
Very commando-style gameplay. It's interesting because there are a lot of design implications for this playstyle. 
All in all, I think it would have been better if flight had never been added or if it had been designed differently.

For example, imagine if you could not hover. If your mount was limited to the ground until you had moved forward for X seconds in a straight line (getting X momentum) and only then could you take off. And then your mount was always moving forward, so you could not hover in place, but had to circle around.

Basically make the true commando-style gameplay inconvenient, but still allow flight for travelling long distances and generally allowing freedom in the air.

All in all, the only real surprise in Blizzard disallowing flight for the full expansion is that it once again proves they are willing to cut significant existing mechanics if they feel it is damaging the game. Flight, reforging, and even the auction house in D3 are all examples.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Itemization Changes in 6.2

Blizzard released a Dev Watercooler on itemization changes coming in Patch 6.2. Here are some thoughts on the changes.

1. More Consistent and Visible Personal Loot

Whenever a group gets items, a certain percentage is "wasted" and ends up disenchanted. Because group loot systems can funnel loot to the people who need it, their wasted percentage is a lot lower than the wasted percentage of Personal Loot.

Blizzard appears to be increasing the amount of Personal Loot given out in order to compensate for increased wastage.

They're also moving to a more consistent model where each boss will drop roughly the same amount of loot for the group, rather than it being truly independent. For example, right now each person might have a 24% chance to get loot, which depending on RNG, could lead to anywhere from 3 to 9 pieces dropping. In the new system, exactly 6 people in the group will get loot, and the item they get is then determined from the eligible loot for their specialization.

As well, there looks to be a new UI element which shows who won loot on this boss, making loot more of a group experience.

Overall, these changes to Personal Loot are good, and will improve its attractiveness. Ideally, Personal Loot becomes the system of choice for pickup groups.

2. Secondary Stats

I'm not sure I really understand what Blizzard is trying to get at here.  I think that they're saying that right now, secondary stats on gear looks like:

+100 Haste
+100 Mastery

My guess is that they want to do more things like:

+150 Haste
+50 Mastery

I don't think this will make a lot of difference. Players will just throw it into the stat weights at Wowhead and make a list of the best gear.

3. Item Level Ramp

As you go deeper into the raid, the level of items will rise. So reward continues to match difficulty.

Unless Blizzard is planning to greatly increase the size of the loot tables, I don't see the point of this. If your boots only drop from Boss A, does it matter if they're slightly higher or lower in ilvl than your gloves?

Plus, what this will probably means is that the Holy Paladin weapon (assuming Blizzard manages to remember it) will drop off an early boss, while the good healer weapon will drop off the last boss and have a higher ilvl. At least this means that Holy Paladins will get a better upgrade sooner if the raid continues into the next difficulty.

On the whole, I think the better solution to people skipping end bosses is to have specific bosses drop specific slots for all classes. Like one boss always drops boots, the next drops chests, and the last boss drops weapons. Kind of like Vanilla. That way no one wants to skip the last boss as they all want to get the items for that slot.


The Personal Loot changes are good changes. I don't think the other two changes are bad, but I doubt they will make any real difference.

Edit: There does seem to be a bit of a contradiction between Points 2 and 3. Point 2 wants to make the choice between Shoulder A and Shoulder B more interesting. But Point 3 wants the shoulder that drops later in the instance to be better. So unless the loot tables increase significantly, or maybe secondary stats become random (which is effectively the same thing), I think the two changes are working at cross-purposes to each other.

Monday, May 18, 2015

SWTOR: Bounty Hunter Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Bounty Hunter story in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

With the renewed 12x bonus, I finished up the Bounty Hunter story. I played as a somewhat Dark Side female Powertech DPS. I was trying for the consummate professional at first, but slipped over to pure brute Dark Side for a few planets.

If I had been in charge of SWTOR development (and had unlimited time and money), I would have scrapped the Bounty Hunter story and sent it back for a complete rewrite. It's not that the story is bad, precisely. It's serviceable, reasonably decent, and does cover the basics of bounty hunting pretty well. You're a hunter, here's your target, go get them.

The story is just not good enough, though. There is no over-arching theme or purpose. In each chapter, you're working for a different patron, who sends you after different, unrelated targets.

A lot of the problem also comes from the fact that a hunt is pretty much how every quest in every MMO works. Someone points out a target, you go and kill the target and they give you a reward. However, every other story has some extra dimension to the request. The bounty hunter is missing that extra dimension. So it feels like every other story in every other MMO, just "less".

The other class stories all had flaws. But those flaws were fixable. The underlying structure for those stories was sound. In my view, there's no real way to improve the Bounty Hunter story outside of a complete rewrite.

I'm not really sure what a better Bounty Hunter story would have been. Perhaps something that delved more deeply into the Mandalorians, maybe with you ultimately leading a new Mandalorian clan.

There are a lot of good elements in the current BH story. The crew and their interactions in particular are very good. One interesting item is that Mako and Torian are the romances, but there also seems to be an option to set them up with each other.

Many of the individual planet class missions are good, with interesting targets. The final mission is very good as well. But the individual planet class missions feel unrelated to each other. The only relationship is that your patron wants these targets.

For smaller flaws, the main antagonist is not that great. You don't interact a lot, he's just an image on the holo who occasionally sends incompetent Jedi after you.

The companion Gault is also a flaw. Not so much in his character, as he's a great character. But he's a target who convinces you to let him fake his death and join your crew. Yet one of the bounty hunter "fantasies" is to be the ultimate hunter, the one who always gets her target. The game forces you to violate this ideal, forces you to avoid killing or capturing one of your targets. No matter how awesome you are in the rest of the story, Gault will always be a blemish on your record, even if no one else knows about it.

Then we come to Skadge. Skadge is probably the most hated companion in the game. He's basically scum of the earth with no redeeming values. The bounty hunter has no reason to take him along. It's like Bioware wanted him to be the equivalent of Khem Val. But the Inquisitor needs muscle, and an ancient Sith monster that eats Force users is an awesome companion. But Skadge is just dumb, psychopathic muscle. The Bounty Hunter is already the muscle in the group, and doesn't really need an insolent extra.

Skadge really needs something in his character to make him attractive to the bounty hunter. Perhaps something like playing up the dumb, evil part of things, but have Skadge look upon the Bounty Hunter as an elder brother or sister.

In any case, that's what I thought of the Bounty Hunter story. It's certainly serviceable, and it does fulfill the Boba Fett fantasy at a basic level. Individual planets are pretty good. But as a whole it pales in comparison to all the other class stories in the game.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

SWTOR: Agent Videos

I found a couple of fan-made Imperial Agent tribute videos or trailers, both featuring the female Agent. This one is really good and covers the start of Dromund Kaas. There are minor spoilers for that part of the story.

This one, by the same author, covers the prologue in Hutta. It does spoil the twist in the Hutta storyline, though, so you may want to avoid it if you're planning on playing an Agent in the near future.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Legendary Ring Issues

There has been a lot of controversy over the design of the upcoming Legendary Rings in patch 3.2. Here is the current ability of the healing ring:
Use: Awakens the powers of Sanctus rings worn by you and your allies, granting (772/100)% Versatility for 15 sec. 
For the duration of this effect, all damage and healing received is divided evenly among empowered allies. (2 min shared cooldown)
As you can see, invoking your ring also triggers the rings of your fellow raid members. This is pretty controversial, because different classes might like to trigger their ring at different times. As well, it feels like you are giving up control of your Legendary item to someone else, be it the raid leader or just another player. Players really do not like to give up control.

The major issue with this ring though, is something slightly different: The cooldown is too short.

This ability is clearly modelled after Bloodlust. Bloodlust (and its variants) is an iconic raid-wide ability. It has a very noticeable sound and graphic, and is a very important part of raiding. But Bloodlust also has a 10-minute cooldown. This means it's only used once a fight (maybe twice on the very long fights). Thus there is some coordination, saving it for a specific phase. But at the same time, that coordination is limited. You just says "Lust at the start of Phase 3", or whenever it is necessary.

A two minute cooldown ability, on the other hand, needs to be used as much as possible. Ideally it should be used whenever it comes off cooldown, to maximize the uptime. That means lots of coordination to get the timing right. As well, if the ability is triggered incorrectly once, it throws of the entire schedule.

If I was designing the Legendary ring for a raid-wide effect, I would do something like:
Use: Increases haste by 30% for all party and raid members within 100 yards. Lasts 40 sec. 
For the duration of this and similar effects, you gain Legendary Heroism, granting (772/100)% Versatility. All damage and healing received is divided evenly among allies empowered with Legendary Heroism. 
Allies receiving this effect will be unable to benefit from similar effects again for 10 min.
Basically, this ability is "Improved Bloodlust". You get the ability to invoke Bloodlust if you don't have it already. But now you become even more powerful under the effects of Bloodlust.

This allows Bloodlust to do the heavy lifting in terms of how the ability works in the raid. Everyone already understands how Bloodlust works, and how it should be coordinated. It really only activates once a fight, but it activates during the most important part of the fight, usually the most dangerous phase.

I think a design like this is just as "Legendary" as the current design. But it utilizes existing mechanics, making it easier to understand and coordinate.

Friday, May 08, 2015

WoW's Subscription Drop

After spiking up to 10 million subscribers last quarter, WoW has fallen back down to 7.1 million subscribers. As usual, everyone in the community takes this as evidence that whatever new element in Warlords of Draenor that they dislike is ruining the game. (I blame Active Mitigation personally, clearly inconsistent tanking is driving people away.)

I think the most likely explanation is that the Warlords of Draenor nostalgia trip plus the 10th Anniversary got a lot of old players to give the expansion a shot. They played through the expansion, then realized that WoW is more or less the same game as when they left. So they quit again, for pretty much the same reasons as before.

Of course, there could be other reasons. The big element that everyone is mentioning is Garrisons. I'm not a major fan of garrisons, but at the same time I don't think they're that bad. They're fairly low maintenance, and easily ignorable, in my view.

If I had to choose to an element which "caused" the drop, I would say that many new elements are combining to weaken guilds, and make the game excessively transient. Things like the Party Finder, cross-server groups, Personal Loot, and maybe even Flexible raiding. In my mind, guilds are a major element in making the game "sticky". Not being in a guild, not being in a community where you see the same people on a regular basis, makes it much easier to drop away.

Of course, we don't have access to data on who exactly is leaving. Blizzard does though, and the best way to find out what caused the drop is to see how Blizzard reacts. The classic example here is Cataclysm. Blizzard made dungeons very difficult, Ghostcrawler put out a post defending that difficulty, sub numbers came out, and two weeks later all the dungeons got severely nerfed.

So we will see what happens with Patch 6.2. Thus far, it looks like Blizzard's main focus is trying to get people to participate in multiple types of content. To me, that implies that players are "silo-ing", focusing on only one part of the game like raids, PvP, or pet battles. Players are not venturing out to try other aspects, even as they are becoming bored with their chosen activity.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

SWTOR: Ziost Finale and Dailies

This post contains major spoilers for the ending of Ziost.

Yesterday, Bioware unlocked the final part of Ziost. It was a pretty interesting outcome.

The Sith Emperor Vitiate won. He consumed all life on the planet Ziost. What this means in terms of future story is unknown, but it looks like Bioware are setting up Vitiate as the major villain going forward. I imagine the next expansion will focus on him.

Ziost also has a new daily area on the ruined planet. It is unusual because it is empty. There are no mobs other than a couple of champion sith monstrosities wandering around. The daily quests involve recovering data from dead bodies, crashed probes, and destroyed temples.

It's very atmospheric, and a neat change of pace.

In some ways, this is the most frustrating part of TOR. They've cut back significantly on the best part of TOR: the multiple unique stories. TOR went from eight class stories, to two faction stories, and now only has one combined story.

But at the same time, they do try new and interesting things like Ziost. It's a real pity that they do not have the budget they originally had. I think the current team might have been able to do a lot with more resources.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Finishing Things

Lately, I've had a hard time finishing games and television shows. I start them, play or watch for a little bit, but then suddenly stop and switch to something else.

The big game here is Pillars of Eternity. I'm about 20 hours in, and I just stopped. I'm not even sure why, as I was really enjoying the game up to that point. I also have a level 96 Warrior in WoW, a level 7 Templar in ESO, a level 39 Bounty Hunter in TOR, and a Season 3 barbarian in Diablo 3. Not to mention I still haven't finished Transistor.

And then for some reason I downloaded TERA again on this weekend.

I'm also doing the same thing with a bunch of shows I'm watching. I'll get mid-way through and just stop. Even if I'm enjoying the show. Heck, one of the shows on my watch list is at 11 episodes out of 12, and I'm simply ignoring the last episode.

I think part of the issue is that my main games are MMOs, which never really finish and encourage you to play at a low pace but on a regular basis. For example, regardless of whatever other games I'm playing, I'll still log in to TOR twice a week to raid. I'm also still working on the Legendary chain in WoW, and that takes a little bit of effort every week.

Perhaps I've fallen out of the habit of focusing on a single piece of entertainment, and am just jumping around from game to game. It's kind of annoying though. I want to finish Pillars, to finish Transistor, to finish many of these shows on my list.