Archive for the 'Games' Category

Joining a Raiding Guild

So on Saturday, someone I had previously grouped with messaged me and asked me if I wanted to join this new raiding guild that was starting up. Now normally I would generally say screw off, and move along. But of late, I have been fairly unhappy with both the game and with our recent raiding alliance.

Now notice that I do not say that I have been unhappy with my guild because I haven’t been. In fact, the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting along with people in my guild a lot better than I had in a long time and I’ve been having fun. Especially since one of our old friends had returned for the expansion. However, though I’ve had a good time when they have been on, with our smaller groups, it is still however fairly infrequent. Which is actually quite surprising because right before the expansion it was looking really good, we were getting more than 10 players on every evening on a regular basis. Then two people left, one we didn’t care about because we suspected he was just a bot anyway and the other wanted better raiding. Then a few others just stopped logging in, then the expansion hit and a number of people I think are frustrated by it and just don’t play as often and all of a sudden, it isn’t working. On top of that our raiding alliance isn’t that great.

Now I will give you a history of the character recruited. I created him for a previous alliance whom really needed a defiler (and additional healers) for their raid force. After a small falling out our guild stopped going with them and we joined another alliance. This new alliance has no guard, or even zerk for that matter, and has a wealth of shamans… so many in fact that I have been #3 shaman when I am going and thusly very bored. Even so I tended to outparse (hps) the other healers in the raid and this angered me even more as I was not better equipped than them. All this tended to frustrate me even more so (and I get that yes Defilers can ward out of group which is one of the reasons why it is so great, but our group heals/wards do not and if I can outparse another defiler who is using those, I think something is up). I also tended to get frustrated that because they didn’t have real raid tanks, that the target would change a lot, and not a little. Often by the time the ward would go off, the target would change. Often cycling through no less than 4 targets, sometimes even warlocks and wizards (which isn’t surprising.

So in the end I felt very unneeded with this character and unused which was so annoying to me because this character’s entire purpose was to help out raids and he was not. On top of this the frustration of the expansion has left me wanting to cancel my account and here comes this guy… offering a better experience. To say this was a tough choice was hard to say the least because I absolutely adore my guild, I don’t want to be stuck into a more hardcore schedule, and I don’t like rules. But still I want a better experience and that is what I might be getting. As an aspiring game designer I also feel the need to experience these types of guilds to understand where they are coming from. And in addition I’m not particularly ready to quit EQ2 because I think this is overall the best game out there.

So here I am joining a guild I never would have thought I would join. I never have liked raiding guilds. I generally think they are bad for the game and bad for the community, I think that what they do should be done naturally without all the hubbub. But then people tend to be too greedy or uncaring to get it done. So we have to do it with strict rules & schedules. I figure at the very least I can try it for a few weeks and if the commitment of it really isn’t working then I can just bow out, they have a decent backup Defiler already, they are just looking for a main… and I am looking to be a main… so maybe it will work.

RoK

So now that I have gone a little further into the Rise of Kunark expansion I thought I’d give more in depth thoughts on the expansion. So far, my thoughts on the game have been fairly cosmetic. I like the largeness of the world, but hate how the world now looks and feels like WoW.

I forgot to mention the new “dynamic combat music” that they added into the game and overall I would say it is a resounding “bleh.” I think it is a great idea, but the music doesn’t seem to change at all in combat, any more than it did previously. I wonder how much time and effort they have wasted on this non-feature because it could have been used much better than this. Maybe in some respects they can take comfort in knowing that I can’t tell that the music is dynamic… but I think the unfortunate part is that they made all the dynamic bits sound the same and they all sound extremely drab so it’s just as bad as if you were listening to the old static music. I think a more productive idea would have been to add 4 or 5 new songs into it, maybe have a different song for each type of mob (normal, heroic, group, x2, and x4) and then in the future add new kinds of music for special zones or just to mix it up from time to time. At least this idea would have brought variety to the music (the one upshot of it is that the combat music does seem to change somewhat based on the zone you are fighting in which is similar to what I’m talking about).

Gameplay itself… this was a travesty of the game. I’m not exactly sure what exactly they were thinking here. Quests are amazingly good… obviously a nod to WoW design. You generally get 2-5% xp from completing a quest, plus xp, plus a fairly nice piece of equipment (usually better than what you would get off from mobs just by killing them). Mosts quests you can do solo, with a few heroic quests thrown into ends of lines with better loot rewards. It is also good to note that many of the quests are not group friendly, this is especially true in Kylong Planes. This means that if you have a quest to get 6 Drachnid Silks, you often need to do it for each member of the group so if you have a full group that is 36 drachnids.

Mobs themselves are fairly worthless, it seems the drop rate on chests has gone down significantly, and xp at 70-73 is about .1% per mob and above that it goes down significantly. Dungeons aren’t any better on xp, and at least in Karnor’s Castle the loot is even worse. They recently doubled the xp in dungeons and after going to KC with a group we quickly realized that with the increased xp, it still wasn’t worth grouping in the dungeons. This is how bad traditional group xp has been in this expansion.

Still, the xp from quests is so good, that many people have already leveled to 80 and gotten some of the first sets of good gear and even progressed through much of the raid instances already. At this point I’d also like to note that there is a weird juxtaposition within the game. It is incredibly easy to level due to the ease of quests (some of which give you 3% xp and 14g just for walking 20 feet and talking to an NPC), yet I think many classes suffer. Any class with a basic mez and decent dps should be able to solo their way to 80 easily, in fact probably faster than it took to get from 60 to 70. Yet rangers and healers for sure are often having a difficult time with the mobs.  This is due to the fact that the mobs themselves hit really really really hard and often times stun. If you can keep these mobs away from you they are easy, even if you have one other player they tend to be easy. But here’s the rub, no one is looking for groups from 70-76 until the high level instances to show up. This is largely due to the inconvenience that is grouping together to do quests mixed with the lack of places to xp as just a group.

So the basic point is, if you got a constant group around in your guild or friends in which you can all do quests at the same time, you will likely hit 80 within 2 weeks fairly easily, but if you are in a small guild or on at times when others aren’t, you will find it painful to play this expansion. In fact, I have personally given up on the expansion entirely and gone to harvesting tier 5 instead.

What makes this expansion even more frustrating, is on top of the already more hard hitting mobs, Sony in their great wisdom has decided that healers don’t need mitigation and thus they only decided to put in leather for healers in the expansion until you hit the high level sets. This is awful because  the balance that was in place was that Druids did more dps and in exchange they lost armor (glass cannon theory). Well the chain and plate healers lost their armor without getting anything in return.

I’m not exactly sure what drugs Sony was taking on this expansion, but it was not good. They said that they had a lot of the same devs as EoF, and they were trying to build upon the good things they did in EoF… yet here we are and EoF is one of the best MMO expansions I have ever seen, and RoK isn’t even close. I think on EQ2 alone it ranks #3 out of 4, just ahead of DoF (I never liked DoF because there wasn’t a lot of area too it, the only thing they really added was 10 levels and climbing, and while climbing has gotten progressively better with each expansion, it wasn’t enough to justify an expansion). If Sony honestly thought RoK was building on the positives of EoF, they lost something in translation. They must have thought the only good things in EoF was a new race, old content, and larger zones… these things they have done again. But what was brilliant about EoF was also the secondary tradeskills, cloaks, second earring, fleshing out missing content spans (zones like Crushbone and Klak really did a lot to fill in some gaps previously inherent in the game).

Even the lessons they “learned” were screwed. Yes it also had good quests with useful rewards and decent xp, but it was well balanced, dungeons and zones were given for nearly every level that also had good xp and loot. You could solo, but you could group. The raids in EoF were actually harder than ones in KoS which from all accounts were harder than the ones in RoK. I realize that part of SOE’s new plan is to put the good cotent in at a later time (such as Throne or Unrest in EoF), but they should provide something to those people playing now and they also better come up with more than 2 decent zones in the next year because this expansion is lacking something fierce. The new race was interesting, but they stuck it even further in the middle of nowhere than Kelethin was… to this day I have attempted only once to visit there and gave up because I couldn’t figure out when the lifts would come down to get me (not even sure I was in the right place but think I was). I’ve heard that there is no way to get from Timorous Deep to any of the high level zones, which I can kind of understand because you don’t want low levels stumbling in but at the same time, why is it harder to go 1 mile away than it is to go 1000 miles away? Gorowyn is actually BETWEEN qeynos and Kylong Planes on the map, yet the boats make no stop at Gorowyn for any of the old cities, go figure. There are also no druid rings or spires to TD the way there were for Kelethin, people complained enough about transportation to Kelethin, Gorowyn is 10 times worse. The zone bigness is their other big lesson learned and they are bigger, in fact this is the only thing that Sony did right by this expansion.

After a few days of playing, I think I gave RoK about a B- which is respectable. After a couple weeks, I give them a solid D. The only thing that really saves this expansion is the big zones, and honestly I also liked the rework on racial traits which was badly needed IMHO. I think these features alone really did a good job at placing it ahead of Pillars of Flame which was the first expansion, but comes no where close to Kingdom of Sky or Echoes of Faydwer. With their recent commitment to not add any more adventure packs and not to release more than one expansion a year, EQ2 is now in trouble because I’m considering canceling my account after 2 weeks, how they going to fill the other 50 weeks?

Rise of Kunark

I wish I could get screenshots of the game, but unfortunately that is still disabled on the beta servers. However, NDA is now lifted so I feel like talking about it.

First, the obvious comparison with EoF. The devs have been talking about how they wanted to copy EoF’s successes with this expansion… well I don’t think they did. EoF to me is still far and away a better expansion. Now here’s why….

The first thing you tend to notice in the expansion (depending on where you start), is size. This is an obvious nod towards EoF. This part I love. You thought everything was big in EoF? Multiply it by 3! The zones themselves seem to be about 2 or 3 times bigger than your average EoF zone. For instance, the average RoK zone has 3-4 pages of maps. If you look at these maps, the feature I notice most is that those wings that we see for cloud lifts in KoS and the zone in symbols are a fraction of the size we are used to seeing them, at least half the size. Which means even though there are multiple pages, each page is much bigger in size than your average page from the old maps (they do now have a zoom feature to help you see things close up too). Not only are the size of the zones big, so are the points of interest. One of the first awe inspiring moments I had was in the mountains in the first zone where there is a little outpost. This “little” (I say that as there really isn’t much there) outpost has spires towering over it that I swear are at least 50 times the size of the spires you can teleport to KoS from, they are huge. Underneath them is a bunch of pyramids (not the CT style but more Egyptian instead, actually look a little sci-fi in appearance). The reason these are awe-inspiring is that you don’t see them build up, they are hidden by a mountain peak, so you turn a corner and you see it all… it is awesome. The devs have gotten so much better in zone design with each expansion and this one is no exception.

Once you get past the bigness however, the second thing you notice tends to be…. “My God, this looks like WoW! Ewww!” Don’t get me wrong, some of the new graphics are cool, I particularly like the formerly mentioned pyramids, many of the zone in areas (like the castle, veeshan’s peak, etc) and a number of the new creatures (like the spider people, the iksar/scorpions, the wurms, the new yetis, the cockatrices, and there are a few more that I won’t mention here). However, some of it makes the game seem downright cartoony, and I don’t want to spend my life playing a cartoon world, if I did I’d play wow or toon town. The trees seem ripped straight from wow, they even have a railroad track through a sarnak mine that seemed stolen from the newbie area of WoW. it is overly colourful (of which I’ll be honest in saying colour is good, but it is unrelenting). I thought Kunark in EQ1 was supposed to be a dark and brooding expansion, here it seems bright and cheery.

However, I do like much of it’s kind of primitave feel. Cockatrice’s, Sabretooth Lions, werewolves, giants, wurms, wyverns, droags, etc. make it feel like you are visiting a fantasy dinosaur land. Especially with looming volcanos (the SkyFire Mountains). This is a nice feal, and certainly a new type of feel that we haven’t seen yet in EQ2. The main types of zones seem to be Badlands, Volcano Range, Large Pine Forest, Snow Mountains, a gully area, and I know there is an underwater zone which i haven’t been able to find quite yet.

The Sarnak, I’ve never been too fond of appearances since they released the first pictures, but I do think there will be a number of people who hated the Fae & Arasai who will like the Sarnak. It is a shame they made them evil because they would make great paladins. They have high wisdom, str, and stamina I believe (although it may have been agility instead of strength). Their racial traits include +wis, the firebreathing aoe that had been mentioned, falling damage reduction, healing crit & heal skill buff, taunting resistance reduction buff, think maybe a +sta, and then a couple tradeskills. I think it is best suited for Pally, but I do think it would still see quite a bit of use as other tanks and priests as well.

The reports of a new flying mount is true, sort of. However, in reality it is just a new way to do the griffons. You have to do a 5 step quest which as a reward you get a pet and a flying mount. However, you can only use these flying mounts at various shrines throughout the zone to other similar shrines. Thus the concept is the same as the griffon. It is nice to see graphic variation though, I think they noted that people really liked the horses for GF and LF in EoF. From what I’ve heard the new rhino mount is the reward for being guild level 80. I don’t know what other rewards are involved from 60-80, but I think the rhino is the 80 reward.

Another reason I really feel that this isn’t as good of an expansion as EoF is besides the largeness of the zones and the persistent instances, there really isn’t much NEW to it. EoF brought with it an entire new AA tree, 50 points, 8 gods, cloaks, 2nd earring slot, tinkering, transmuting, and portal spells. RoK is bringing 3 new gods, 40 AA points, and 10 levels to every side (including 20 guild levels). I think the main point they are making is the levels, as they almost didn’t even put in the 40 AA. The levels are great, and well needed addition to the game (I think people were more than a little bored of the 70 level limit by this point), but I would have liked to see SOME new feature to the expansion that was more than just cosmetic like the bigger zones. In a way I was kind of hoping for a third new secondary tradeskill as I feel the choice of just 2 was limiting (I was really hoping for an appearance adjusting secondary tradeskill).

From what little i’ve seen of the beta, I would give the expansion about a B-. Cheesey graphics and lack of new features being the negatives, and big zones, monuments, level raise being the positives. Sarnak kind of fall in between, I do appreciate that they didn’t just pick random animal and turn it into a biped like many fantasy creators seem to.

Of course, this grade was given without a huge amount of playtime put into it. I mostly have just kind of looked around at the new zones, found out where some basic things were, and seen if there was anything new that they haven’t really talked about. I am in no rush to ruin the content. With expansions only coming 1 time a year, we are going to be living with these new zones for a year, and I am sure by this time next year we will be quite sick of these zones because this is all we have for 74-85. Why would I want to rush me being sick of it?

EQ2-Daily Props

About a year ago or maybe more, I had started a site whose purpose was to provide the EQ2 community with current news on the status of the game. Part of this was because most of the news out there was fairly bad and ill-reported. I wanted to provide more than just random crap put together in a badly designed website that was eq2-daily.com. My site was cleanly put together, I didn’t just post everything that I found, I tried to keep it new, relavant and interesting. Despite the fact that I had a stable amount of visitors and I was doing fine, I decided to close the site because I just didn’t have the time to do it alone and could not find others to help.

So a few months ago, EQ2-Daily went through a redesign and after some visitation I must admit that their site is now perhaps the best MMO news site design online that I have seen anywhere. It is extremely intuitive, very clean looking, no longer the eyesore that it once was, and very well laid out. Props to whoever did the design.

Their news is still basic at best and more an aggrigator for blogs and other news sites than actual EQ2 news, but the site design is now great which was one of my original complaints about it. I would still like to see them gear away from the wiki (as eq2i is way better and theirs is taking away possible submissions), and start adding more stories from developers themselves.. for instance, while it is easy to actually go yourself to the official forums and see developer posts, it’d be nice if someone would post the good ones so you don’t have to wade through devs posting such gems as “lol” to get to the real posts where they are talking about new features coming out and why they did them. Those stories are still absent and it is shameful, the only time you can hear from a developer about the game is by digging or on the occasion that they do an interview with a different site.

Bloodline Chronicles

I recently bought Bloodline Chronicles for EQ2. This was SOE’s first adventure pack and I never really bothered because SOE made a point to say these weren’t necessary, and it launched toward the end of my first stint with EQ2 which by the time I got back Splitpaw was out and that was far preferred at the time. Well recently SOE has revamped a little of this adventure pack, adding Vampire Master and I felt that this was a worthy thing to have for EoF raids (which are Vampire intensive at times) so I went out and bought it.

Now I have played through the main quests with one character and almost done with them on a second, I have decided that I fairly like the pack. The zones themselves have a fairly simple layout, but the pinkish caves with blood red crystals throughout are different and interesting. The addition of vampires are boring due to their look being very near identical to the elves or dark elves, but other creatures used in the zone are lesser used models such as the blue goblins, the hellhounds, the big giant snakey looking things. I’m not sure if these were invented for this pack, and later used in future expansions as the vampire were, but they are all very interesting in use given how little you really see them elsewhere.

The two big features touted in this pack were breakable walls and single shot items such as wands that do dmg and potions that heal or give power. Both I think were rather minor. I like walls here better than splitpaw largely because I don’t have to find a barrel to break them, but overall unimportant. Overall, I still think this is badly designed… something like this should be obvious to the player how to deal with it… I kept looking for a barrel due to splitpaw and took awhile to figure out that I could just hit it. There wasn’t any tutorial or anything to rely on, which I suppose is more realistic, but I’m just too stupid to really figure it out on my own, and considering how small a feature it was it seemed odd to me that it took so much effort.

The one shots too were bland. It was a good idea, and they may work well for a level 35, but they don’t scale and SOE dropped it. I mean at level 70 gaining 10-15 power isn’t much use in reality, and thus this aspect is completely lost. Which is too bad as it seemed like a focus to SOE for this.

WiiWare & other fun stuff

Last night Nintendo announced their new WiiWare lineup (as well as showing off some of their normal software that is coming up). I must say I am pretty impressed over all, however I think pricing may be interesting to say the least. The games that I can recall off hand include a Pokemon Farm which allows you to upload pokemon to the wii from D&P and raise them in a farm… this one sounds pretty cool and I will likely take a look at it when it launches. A new Dr. Mario… A new version of one of those popular Turbo Grafx Games (i can’t remember which). And a new Final Fantasy Chrystal Chronicles.

Now this last one was really quite a surprise. We knew since launch that Square was working on it, but we hadn’t really heard much from it since the launch came. Now we can assume the reason for this was because they didn’t want to talk too much about WiiWare until it was closer to being ready. They seem to be having two different types of WiiWare games. One is the traditional small puzzle game not unlike what is on most of X-Box Live… the other type is a full game (likely smaller) like FFCC. I think they announced the price of FFCC to be somewhere around 1600-1700 Wii Points (which is $16-17), which actually if it is a more full fledged game isn’t a bad price and may be the answer to those lesser games that I’ve been talking about for months being too expensive (like trauma center, cooking mama, and big brain academy). Perhaps a reason they are not releasing Brain Age yet on Wii is because it will be a WiiWare game instead later down the line for $20 instead of a disc for $50. I don’t know…

Now the real question remains is how much will the smaller games be? I could see pokemon go for maybe 1300 points, while a new Dr. Mario could go for 1200… I think for the smaller game these would be fairly acceptable prices, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go up to 1500 for bigger games. After all, I think the N64 & SNES games are a tad overpriced as it is… wouldn’t be at all surprising if they overprice the rest of their WiiWare games… but so far the news is good on WiiWare.

They also announced that their Everbody Votes channel will be updated in the future to allow you to rate games and then have the channel tell you similar games that you may be interested in. I have a feeling that this is an advertising ploy for WiiWare in particular, but I think it is still a good idea. One problem that is out there with something like X-Box Live is that many of the games you may not even look at because you don’t even KNOW if you would be interested in it, and this will help sift through the junk. I think it will also play big in helping with finding the right VC games as it is starting to get crowded in there and I think Nintendo is doing a good job at putting in off the beaten track games.

Speaking of the VC… they have recently been adding a lot of new types of games of late which really make me excited for the variety it’ll provide. Two weeks ago they added what I think is called the Super CD which I think was a CD add on for the Turbo GrafX. Last week they added an import section bringing over the long wanted Mario: Lost Levels and Sin & Punishment (Mario I am considering buying only for the fact that I feel it is a game lost from my youth). And this week they added in NeoGeo games (which was a system known for porting arcade games, so it has a lot of fighting games on it… it is a tad pricey but then I think the actual console was too). I am particularly interested in the imports… as I said I am considering Mario… but there are also a ton of games that never really made it over here such as the other Earthbound/Mother games, or Fire Emblem… Japan has had a history of really cool games that never made it over here because they were believed to be too “niche” to be worth the translation costs (I hope they actually translate these games though!!!!!). All these new systems and such make me wonder what they will launch next week but I bet this is it… still… am I the only one who thinks it would be pretty kick ass if they brought over 64DD games?  There weren’t many games for it but, some of them were pretty cool in how they used the disk drive and since the Wii has the flash memory, this feature could easily be duplicated (after all there was only 64MB of space on those discs anyway).

Mario Party 8

A couple of weeks ago I was looking for something to do with my sister’s family because they were coming down for my daughter’s birthday. I decided to go out and buy Mario Party 8 and Wii Play. I decided to get Wii Play, like most people, because I wanted another controller (brought me up to 3) and I was willing to pay $10 for the mini-games. I will talk about the game in a future post.

Mario Party 8 was actually a bit of a hard decision for me though. I wanted it because it is my room mate’s favorite series of games, and I like buying games that she will play with me. But I heard a bunch of bad reviews saying this game really should have had wifi connectivity of some sort, many of the games are the same that have always been in the game, the implementation of the controller seemed forced and rushed, etc. So I was going to wait for Mario Party 9 in order to buy it on the theory that this was likely just a modified gamecube game ported to the Wii with weak controller use.

Now i have owned Mario Party previously. I have Mario Party 4 for the Gamecube so it has been a long time since I’ve gotten one. In fact, I generally don’t think you need more than 1 per system unless there is an overwhelming upgrade (as I assume there will be with the wifi in the next couple of years) and have long felt that Nintendo’s biggest mistake with this franchise has been to make it a yearly game. I think they would have been much better suited had they just put out 2 per system with a year or two between games to protect the franchise. However, that is not what they’ve done and as such this franchise has gotten worse and worse scores as it has continued and become less relevant, even for party games. (Most people would prefer Rayman now instead of Mario Party although they could create the same mistake as Rayman 2 is coming out in just a year from the previous).

I was pleasantly surprised by this game however. The graphics were much nicer than 4, the new characters were  a welcome change (to me.. I love dry bones, boo, birdo and hammer bros. as additional characters). The Donkey Kong board is a brilliantly designed board, and I wish the others were to this quality but there are some interesting designs in each. Such as the train cars being mixed and moved, the random generation of rooms in the haunted house, or the monopoly like purchasing of hotels for stars. Many of the games seem fresh to me, even if they aren’t really, and the controls seem very appropriate and well done for the most part.

That isn’t to say it is perfect… controls in particular seem to be a constant annoyance. Twisting to turn or rotate in some games doesn’t seem to work all that well and everyone ends up annoyed that the computer consistently beats us because he doesn’t have to deal with the controller. Another trouble some game is where you have to flip the controller to the side in order to flip the monkey to a different side of the rope to avoid dropping coconuts, however, more often than not flipping the controller just doesn’t work at all and is an early prime contender to be taken out of the rotation if we can’t figure it out because this game will only work with 4 players being equally bad at the controller.

Another issue I have with the game is the general lack of boards. I have always found it curious that Mario Party has stuck with 6 boards since its inception on the N64. Despite growing disc size (now on DVD), they just refuse to put in more boards. Even if they didn’t want to totally design new boards, it would be nice to throw in 3-4 “classic boards” that could be unlocked in the game not unlike what you got from Mario Kart DS. This would reduce the onus of having to design new boards, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason that they don’t do this is because they later want to sell the classic Mario Parties on the Wii Shop Channel.

Overall, it was a pleasant purchase though I still believe Nintendo needs to start a low cost line of casual games in it for $39.99 instead of the traditional $49.99 as they do with the DS. This line should contain Mario Party, Big Brain Academy, Wario Ware, Cooking Mama, and other such games. The problem with many of these types of games, Mario Party included, is though it is a quality game, it often doesn’t feel like you are getting your money’s worth when you compare it to similar priced games such as Metroid, Zelda, or Mario Galaxy. I think at a $10 lower price, it would encourage more people to pick up these games in order to give them added value.