Friday, February 27, 2009

PQs: the evolution of the dungeon?

An article over at Nerf the Cat got me thinking about casual and hardcore players.

I'm not one to make overtly bold statements just for the purpose of gaining attention, however I think Mythic has done something that is both beneficial and detrimental to the mmo genre with Warhammer Online.

Public Quests are amazing. First off, they are a grinder's paradise. Secondly, they're easy to get into. And third, incredibly fun if you find the right ones.

However, is there more to the design concept of the PQ than meets the eye.

It is a no brainer that any gamer can see that mmos have taken a strong turn towards casual play. Even the most devout fans of World of Warcraft have cited that game's lean towards casual play. Games like Dungeons and Dragons Online made the overworld obsolete. WAR allows players to queue up for scenarios (i.e. battlegrounds) anywhere at any time.

Aside from Darkfall, which is aiming to bring the good ol' days of Ultima Online back to life, each game that has come out since Meridian 59 has taken steps to make mmos more accessible and casual.

In no particular order:

1. Developers made death penalties less severe, as is the case in WAR, where there is practically no penalty at all.

2. Quests became easily identifiable. In fact, this is one of the only things that I believe World of Warcraft brought to the genre (!). Quests became so easy that players didn't even have to read the quest text, just a two-sentence synopsis at the end of the quest log.

3. Leveling became easier. No longer were mmos about spawn camping, or at least not completely about spawn camping. Aside from that, rest and bonus experience was introduced.

4. Instances made grinding mobs for epic drops even easier.

And now — after everything that has come before it — I believe the PQ is the next casual step for dungeons in the evolution of the mmo.

First, let's identify what a dungeon is, in terms of the genre. A dungeon is a select portion of the map that usually requires a small group or large raid to enter, with the goal of defeating the end boss and scoring high-end gear. Dungeons can be everything from a simple labyrinth of caves to an exalted temple of fiends.

Dungeons require a time commitment on the part of every one in the group. It is in these dungeons, historically, where players could see how well other group mates were at playing their class of choice. Communication is often times paramount to the group's success.

Basically, here is the layout of your typical mmo dungeon:

1. The group must proceed through many "trash" mobs as they adventure deeper into the dungeon.

2. Occasionally, the group will run into mini bosses that will challenge the group in a way that the trash mobs didn't.

3. The group will finally confront the boss of the dungeon. These fights are sometimes epic in scale and force everyone in the group to focus on the task at hand. Taking down bosses requires precision, strategy and — more often than not — superb timing.

That's a dungeon in a nutshell.

Now, let's look at a PQ in WAR:

1. Adventurers in the PQ area fight through numerous trash mobs in order to progress past the first stage of the PQ.

2. Stage two usually involves some champion-type mobs for the group to focus on.

3. Stage three culminates with the boss of the PQ.

Notice the similarities?

To expound on PQs, starting in late Tier 2, the PQs begin getting more elaborate, often times forcing those who are participating to do a couple of things at once, such as killing mobs while protecting NPCs, or destroying a champion or hero-type mob's power source. Also, additional stages are added to make the PQ more dynamic and lengthy.

The glaring difference between PQs and dungeons — other than the ideological differences that players associate with the two — is that dungeons require a bit of exploration. Understand that I use the word "exploration" in the most minute sense, seeing how most dungeons are extremely straight-forward, there isn't much in terms of exploration. Not all fall into this stereotype, but the vast majority are straight forward and don't require much exploration at all.

In going back to the premise of this article, it seems to me that Mythic has taken the next step at making dungeons more casual.

WAR is often criticized for its lack of dungeons, however PQs offer the same trials and rewards as a traditional dungeon. Both have trash mobs, mini bosses, bosses and loot.

Admittedly, some of the later PQs in WAR have a good deal of exploration, especially some of the High Elf and Empire castles.

Most PQs only take — on an average — 20 minutes to complete, easily allowing players to jump in and accomplish a task.

Each PQ has its own story, just like a dungeon, and evolves as the players proceed through each step.

On paper, PQs and dungeons are almost exactly alike. In fact, I think it is the ideology surrounding the two as to the reason why players draw a distinction between dungeons and PQs.

Personally, invading an encampment of House Arkaneth in WAR, only to look up at the end and see Lady Arkaneth, herself, along with her two bodyguards, fly down from the sky on dark elven dragons, bent on retribution for my group's actions, was amazing. It felt just as exhilarating taking her and her guards down as defeating the main boss in a dungeon.

Was it hard? No, but not all dungeon bosses are hard either.

The background and story was there. The trash mobs and mini bosses were there. And finally the boss and the loot was there.

While this is great for the casual player, will it mean the eventual end to 2-hour dungeon runs?
Will players opt out for an experience that they can get in 2 hours if they can get the same adventure in 20 minutes?

Personally, I believe Mythic did it right. It seems like you can't walk 10 feet without bumping into a PQ. However, Mythic also included traditional dungeons for players to run. I believe it is this combination that is key in giving players the versatile gameplay experience that they are looking for.

If anything, it allows the game to appeal to both the casual and hardcore audiences.

Will the rest of the genre catch on and begin using a similar formula for dungeons like PQs?

Has Mythic taken the most sacred and hardcore section of the mmo genre and turned it into something casual and accessible for players? And if they have, is that a good thing?

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the monotony of randomness...

In my last post, I shared my frustrations with the Internets regarding the gear grind at the end of WAR. Whether you RvR or PvE, the gear grind is there waiting for you.

So why are things how they are?

Some say it all comes down to money. The more times a player must go through a dungeon to get loot, the more times it takes to get a complete set. More time equals more money. The recipe is easy:

Step One: Give players a carrot to chase (i.e. gear for proper wards).

Step Two: Show players where to get the carrot (i.e. city dungeons, Lost Vale, etc.)

Step Three: Make loot tables completely random and irrelevant to any group make-up that enters the dungeon.

The thinking behind the people who justify that developers do this out of avarice is the idea that as long as players have gear to work towards, then they will keep shelling out $15/month.

However, I argue that it can also do the opposite.

What causes burnout in mmos? It isn't getting new fancy gear every other day, it's doing the same thing over and over again.

I argue that random loot tables contribute to players leaving the game, which — if the people who argue that the randomness is to keep players playing and paying — directly nullifies why a developer would do such a thing.

Why do I say such a thing? Well, read my previous post.

Mythic isn't a team of sloths, slowly developing content that is unoriginal and void of innovation. Yet, the end game is back to the same ol' same ol' grind mentality for gear. Instead of continuing the innovation that makes looting in PQs and RvR vastly superior to looting in other mmos, Mythic dropped the ball and resorted back to an outdated form of looting.

My suggestion is to make dungeon loot tables work just as PQs and RvR keeps/fortresses.

After competing a PQ — no matter which class you are — the loot bag will contain gear for your class. The same goes for RvR loot bags. However, successful dungeon runs yields the same archaic and monotonous loot system that has plagued the mmo genre since EQ.

WAR's looting system is excellent, up until dungeon runs. If Mythic's systems can handle sorting loot bags between hundreds of players in a fortress/keep siege, then it should be able to handle a measly six-man group — in an instance, no less — without any hick-ups at all.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Dude, where's my armor?

WAR is my first foray into any mmo's end game.

Despite my many close attempts, the end game has always eluded me, for I am a simple fellow and am easily attracted by new and shiny things.

One of the things that stopped from propelling me into the end game in mmos was the abysmal gear grind once toons reached the level cap. However, WAR was to be different. 

So sayeth, Mythic, unto the unwashed masses:

"Hear me, bored and forgotten mmo travelers. No longer shall you be ignored. No longer shall you have to sit and play rinse and repeat to gear your avatars, for WAR will be different.

When WAR cometh, flights of angels will carry you into battle. No longer will the itemization of your gear be the deciding factor. Skill, teamwork, patience and diligence will be the steel and fervor of your blades.

Your resolve lies in the knowledge that while your fellow travelers in other universes grind needlessly away for hours on end, you — the fortunate few who have stepped into the Old World to breathe life into its silk veins — can enjoy a virtual life of luxury without a gear grind.

So let it be done. So sayeth, Mythic."

Boy, I'm starting to think I should have taken the blue pill.

I turned R40 at the beginning of January and from 10 minutes after I dinged to now, I have been running Bloodwrought Enclave and Bilerot Burrow as many times as I can as a means to gear my toon with Sentinel armor so that I may sack Lost Vale.

Both city dungeons are on a three-day lock out, which means that I can attempt four runs each week. Given my real life constraints, I generally only run the two dungeons once a week. This means that at a minimum, I have run these two dungeons approximately seven times each, for a total of 14 attempts at attaining Sentinel drops.

There have only been maybe one or two attempts that were not successful in Bilerot Burrow, so we will be liberal and say that I have had 12 successful runs.

Out of those 12, I have only gained one Sentinel piece.

Now, it is that this time that I must point out that I was one of the first to ding R40 in my guild and alliance. However, since I hit R40, more and more people have reached the end game and began running city dungeons.

And — not to my surprise at all — most of them are decked out with at least three or four Sentinel pieces. Hell, we even have people's alts who are fully decked out in Sentinel armor, while I still sit at only one piece.

Adding insult to injury, there are many times where no one in the group gets any class drops. Why hasn't Mythic implemented the same type of class-specific looting that occurs with PQ and RvR bags into PvE dungeons? This would rid players of the gear grind that wasn't supposed to be in the game in the first place.

Loot tables could very easily match the group makeup that enters the instance. Doing so removes the gear grind, the frustration and the need to do the dungeon for months on end.
What do I have to do; sacrifice a chicken?

The bad thing about this is that my negativity is reaching into the game and it's only time before I become that guy who no one wants in their group because he won't stop bitching about gear drops. I'm hoping that writing this post is therapeutic enough to halt my QQing.

However, I can't help but feel a little frustrated when I think back on what Mythic told all of us pre-launch about WAR not having a gear grind.

Why did all of that sweet pillow talk that the developers whispered into our ears have to end after the honeymoon? Why wasn't there any substance to what was being said to us?

I can still recall those tender — and unfortunately false — words from the developer's mouths as if it was said yesterday.

Ah, Mythic, I guess you had me at hello.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"I have been a stranger in a strange land" Exodus, 2.22

So, just going off of what I have seen in my guild — Ira Deorum — and the alliance that we are in — Twilight Alliance — I have noticed that there is some sort of small exodus occurring from WoW.

Now, before anyone gets up in arms, let me go ahead and reiterate that I only drawn this conclusion from what I have seen in my incredibly small control group. And as far as I am concerned, my control group is the only one that matters to my enjoyment of the game.

WAR launched at a questionable time. Both hardcore and casual fans of WoW were all itching for the newest expansion — Wrath of the Lich King — and they were willing to stave off boredom from the Burning Crusade long enough to try WAR. A bold move, but many knew that they wouldn't be gone from Blizzard's gem for long.

Unfortunately, they started playing WAR when it had just launched, meaning that the game was very easy to complain about. No longer was WAR about the vision of the developers and fan base, but about the amount of bugs and poor character animations.

Needless to say, there was a great exodus from WAR once Wrath went live. My guild felt this as we lost one of our founders and an excellent high-level Witch Elf.

But now that time has gone.

Reports around the blogging network point to players already completing everything that Wrath has to offer, once again settling those players in to the boredom that they experienced pre-Wrath.

All of these events could not have happened more perfectly if they had been planned; the exodus from WAR, the launch of Wrath, it is all forming the perfect storm.

Here is what I forsee in the next one to two months in WAR:

• The arrival of the Slayer and the Choppa will revitalize the RvR in lower tiers, much like the coming of the Blackguard and Knight of the Blazing Sun did back in December.

• More and more mmo tourists that visited WAR back in September and October will step back into Mythic's pool to see if the water is more soothing.

• As soon as WoW players are finishing up content in Wrath, Mythic and WAR are beginning to hit the game's stride as it moves into its six month mark.

• Tier 4 RvR, which is already a heated game of tug-of-war, will continue as Mythic tweaks the end game. It is more vital now than ever that this is done. Reports from city sieges have not been very positive. Perhaps it is time to put the RvR back in WAR's end game?

• And, as always, Mythic will continue to build WAR to its potential.

The timing of Wrath and WAR's six month mark is perfect. 

Those who left WAR last fall will be able to come back and see numerous changes to both PvE and RvR. Good things are in store for anyone who decides to take part in another dip in Mythic's pool. I assure you, the game has grown a lot.

And the best part is, the game still isn't even close to attaining its potential, so if you are satisfied with WAR right now, just wait until the game really starts coming together.

As far as Ira Deorum and the Twilight Alliance are concerned, we couldn't be happier to see some of our old players coming back. We welcome the exodus from Wrath with open arms. 

Aye, it will be good to shed the blood of Order with you mates again.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

My cup is overflowing

(Props to Blame the Healer for the great ECards)

While my blade may yearn for blood, it's my chalice that I'm really focused on. And even more so, now that the new patch notes are out. While I am excited to see the changes made to zone domination, I want to first focus on my class of choice:

Bug Fixes:

* Stand Coward!: This ability's build time has been reduced, and cooldown time increased.
* Patch Wounds: This ability will now correctly consume 25 Soul Essence as described.
* Restored Motivation: Fixed a bug which caused this ability's healing effect to occasionally be disrupted by allies.
* Warding Strike: This ability will now fire correctly when the Disciple has 30 Soul Essence.
* Covenant of Vitality: Fixed this ability's buff icon tooltip to display the correct effect. Additionally, this ability's buff will now persist after zoning.
* Covenant of Celerity: This ability's buff will now persist after zoning.
* Covenant of Tenacity: This ability's buff will now persist after zoning.
* Devour Essence: This ability will now heal for every target hit in the radius, instead of only once.
* Consume Essence: This ability will no longer heal invalid targets.
* Rend Soul: This ability will no longer heal invalid targets.

Balance Changes:

* Covenant of Vitality: This ability will now deal Spirit Damage.
* Covenant of Celerity: This ability will now deal Spirit Damage.
* Restore Essence: This ability will now heal slightly more initially, and slightly less over time. The over time portion will now last 5 seconds.
* Khaine's Embrace: This ability will now cast faster and heal for a higher value.
* Soul Shielding: This ability will now absorb more damage.
* Khaine's Bounty: This ability will now absorb more damage.

I, for one, am very pleased with the changes coming to DoKs. Recently, I have been getting very frustrated at my DoKs inability to resurrect fallen players. Six seconds is an eternity in RvR, so I am hoping that the reduction in cast time is at least on part with the zealot and shaman's 3-secs.

Khaine's Embrace — which is any Dark Rites-specced DoK's bread and butter — is getting a buff, so no complaints there. Couple this with the buff to Soul Shielding and Khaine's Bounty and you are looking at a great Dark Rites healer. The buff to Restore Essence will also — hopefully — give us some added spike healing.

I believe players can look forward to seeing more DR DoKs in the mid- to back line, casting heals and damage shields, while working to peel off any Order players that break through the front lines with these changes.

However, if the cake is not a lie, then the fix to Devour Essence will make the number of Sacrifice-specced DoKs even greater. It will also make this Sac/DR hybrid spec even more valuable to a solid pre-made team (yeah, yeah, take Empowered Transfer in stead of Pillage Essence if you want). Plus, at RR 40, the player can add the newly-buffed Soul Shielding to round the character out.

With this build, the DoK is both efficient for healing on either the front lines or back lines, while at the same time being deadly versatile with two swords.

The changes to Alter Fate will make boss encounters a little more tricky, but at least it will be easier for DoKs to keep group mates going strong throughout the fight. And look at the bright side, I won't have to decide between Alter Fate and Thousand and One Dark Blessings anymore.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Herding sheep

To expound on a post that I wrote earlier regarding Mythic's subscriber base and the image that is being propelled by some in the mmo community, I want to point out why I believe World of Warcraft was able to attain 11 million subscribers.

That number seems near ridiculous when you compare it to other mmos — western or eastern — yet there it is in all of its pop culture audacity.

However, 11 million isn't a barometer for greatness. WoW came off the heels of Warcraft III, which many gamers say is the penultimate RTS game. Blizzard's popularity was at an all-time high and their focus on the Asian markets were really paying off (i.e. Starcraft).

So while The Ancient Gaming Noob eludes that WoW's popularity is because of its polish and uniqueness, Hardcore Casual and myself point out the game's popularity for different reasons.
Up until WoW's launch, there weren't 11 million mmo players. There was maybe 1-2 million, stretched among numerous virtual worlds.  

However, when WoW launched, it brought the legions of Blizzard fans with it. They didn't start playing WoW because it was better than EQ1, DAoC or Asheron's Call, they started playing it because it was made by their favorite developer.

Name one other developer that launched an mmo who had the console/PC track record that Blizzard had when they launched WoW? None. Even now, Bioware is the only one who has a shot with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

WoW maybe brought a little more public insight into the genre, but it didn't bring core gamers that will stick to the genre. Instead, it brought Blizzard players that enjoy playing Blizzard games to the genre. Nothing more.

And rightfully so. Blizzard makes great games, but to compare any mmo's success in relation to WoW's popularity is an exercise in futility. 

If WoW had not been developed by Blizzard and not named "of Warcraft," then the game would be sitting pretty in line with all of the other mmos currently being played.

It's the only sound explanation for why a game that brought nothing to the table became the crown jewel of the gaming industry.

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A man without a home

In an interview by Rob Purchese at, Destin Bales, live producer for Mythic's Warhammer Online, gave some insight into the future of capital cities in the game.

"As for cities, we continue to invest time and energy on our existing capitals," said Bales. "For example - the rewards given for invading and defending IC (Inevitable City) and Altdorf are being revised at the moment."

A slight disappointment, in my opinion. I was really hoping for a tease regarding the missing cities.

As WAR stands right now, only the Inevitable City and Altdorf are in the game, meaning that the dwarf, high elf, dark elf and greenskin cities are still missing. I understand that that cities in WAR are unlike cities in other mmos.

IC and Altdorf aren't just places to meet around the auction house, while spamming trade messages. These cities grow and change — albeit subtle — as each warring faction progresses or digresses. Aside from that, new challenges and points of interest open up as each city progresses, making the city an end-game dungeon in itself.

Take all of this into affect when you think about the radical change that occurs within a city when it is sieged, and you have perhaps the most complex cities in any mmo.

So while it is easy to excuse Mythic for not releasing the other four cities, it is somewhat disheartening to the overall flow of the game. Players right now struggle to take two of the three fortresses. Only then will they be able to begin sacking the enemy's city.

On Phoenix Throne — one of the top three highest populated servers — attacks on fortresses are not uncommon. However, I have never seen one of the fortresses fall under control of the opposing faction. Take into consideration that to even begin sacking the city, a second fortress would have to be successfully sieged, and the monumental task of attempting such a feat becomes legendary in scope of difficulty.

With additional cities, I would assume that only that city's fortress would need to be captured in order for a sack to take place.

As it stands right now, city sieges are still a distant end-game dream, and remember that this is coming from someone who plays nightly on Phoenix Throne.

It may be nice that they are reviewing the rewards for attacking and defending a city, but it proves to be moot when no faction can attain the prize.

Of course, additional cities will only spread the player base even thinner across Tier 4, which is why server mergers need to occur, but that is another topic left for another day.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Enough is enough

All hail the Internet.

It is this gift from the gods that allows us to make total jackasses of ourselves, all the while feeling a sense of comfort in our anonymity, as we berate, insult and generally vomit on anyone that has a differing opinion than our own.

Enter: the fanboy.

Ok, Mythic just released numbers pertaining to its subscriber base for WAR and between North America and Europe, it looks as if WAR's base rate lies at 300,000.

Admittedly, I thought that was kind of low, but actually it is very good. In fact, it is great, especially for a North American mmo that hasn't launched in the Asian markets, yet.

But of course, 300,000 doesn't even come close to the awe-inspiring 11 million that Blizzard can boast about WoW. And like fat people to a new all-you-can-eat restaurant, the fanboys have come out in droves to say how much WAR sucks because it only has 300,000 subscribers.

It's not just like this in mmos, but all video game genres. 
X-Play's Adam Sessler recently spoke on the topic in this soon-to-be legendary soapbox podcast.

Why is it that there can only be one great mmo in a sea of horrible games?

Why can't each mmo bring something engaging and fun to the table? Well, the fact is that each one does bring something to the table. Subscriber numbers are not a valid barometer as to whether or not a game sucks or is great. Popular — i.e. Brittney Spears and McDonalds — does not always equal good or quality.

Sure, those who know me know that I enjoy partaking in WoW-bashing diatribes from time to time, but they also know that I have subscribed to WoW several different times. The reason is simple: it's a fun game.

But because now that I am playing WAR, must I say that WoW is terrible? The fanboy would say, "yes."

I guess it doesn't help that the WoW community is made up of the most, "wretched hive of scum and villainy ," in all of the mmo genre.

Seriously, arguing over which game is better — especially when using subscriber numbers as the contributing factor to your rebuttals — is a lost and pointless cause.

Find something better to do with your time. Might I recommend, a change of mmo scenery?

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