Say hello to my little friend Wednesday, Nov 11 2009 

Happy to see you...

Happy to see you...

One of my favorite things introduced into PvP by Warth of the Lich King. Cannons. Big, mother-freakin’ cannons. Above, Augustine defending the beach in the Strand of the Ancients battleground.

Boom!

I’ve been playing a lot of PvP and really enjoying it. Collecting some great gear and enjoying the randomness, choas and fun of player-versus-player. There are times when it can be frustrating, but overall great fun.

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Thoughts on MMO tourism Monday, Nov 9 2009 

david-bowie

I totally see Bowie playing a Warlock. Like, for sure.

[Song to the tune of Fashion, by David Bowie]

There’s a brand new MMO
but we don’t its name…
The players from WoW are
coming to play…
But the game is big and bland,
full of mobs and gear…
We grind up some levels and cancel our subs.

Fashion! Sub to WAR!
Fashion! Sub to Aion!
Oooooooh wa, fashion.
We are the WoW tourists
And we don’t plan to stay!
Beep-beep

I just can’t help myself.

I try the shiny, new MMO but I keep coming back to WoW. Is it a sickness? Has Blizzard brain washed me? Dear Gawd what’s wrong with me!!!!!

Yet again, another MMO has failed to inspire me… yep I’m talking Aion. I just can’t work up enough enthusiasm for the game. Unlike WAR which I played solidly for six months before giving up, Aion didn’t even make it past the month.

Ok! Ok! I’m the dreaded WoW tourist! However, I’m not concerned about the slings and arrows that may be thrown my way. I’ll continue to try new games, but I’m yet to be lured away from the “One True Game”.

We’re mad, bad, and dangerous us WoW tourists. We descend on a game like a horde of locusts and then, just as quickly, we’re gone. In recognition of this fact, I dedicate the above song to both myself as well as the other WoW tourists out there.

But to be frank, I don’t feel guilty. A succession of MMOs have failed to maintain my attention: that’s not my fault. If the developers can’t make a product that keeps me enthused, then the blame mostly lies with them. I will give a game as much time as it deserves. Really I will.

But still, what is it about WoW that is different to the other MMOs? On the surface there is very little difference between these games:

  • Generic fantasy setting
  • DPS/Tank/Healer classes
  • WASD/Action bar controls
  • 3D graphics
  • Professions
  •  Virtual economies
  •  PvP
  • Instanced dungeons/raids

Tick “check” for all of the above for WoW, WAR, DDO, Aion, LoTRO and the rest.

What is that makes a difference: is it quality, polish, content, story or game mechanics? Sure, if a game fails in any of these, then it will find it hard to maintain its player base. Still, that’s only one half of the equation.

The other has to be the strength of the games community. And I don’t mean the number of subscribers. I mean how passionate a fan base is about their game.

“Community” – a much abused word – helps sustains a games pollution. It keeps players engaged. I read several WoW related blogs and listen to podcasts such as “The Instance”, “WoW.com” and “World of Warcast”. When they talk about game content, I feel the urge to go see it in-game. Reading other blogs inspired me to create my own blog. I caught up with same friends last week who I meet via WoW, and we talked about life and WoW. I’ll jump on a forum and join an interesting WoW related conversation.

All of this is part of my “WoW experience”, and a great deal if it is generated by other fans of the game and not by Blizzard.

Like most players, I crave a community that “speaks my language”. A MMO with no community does not inspire me to stick with a game. For me, it’s a vital element.

That was my experience with WAR: as the blogs and pod casters started closing up shop, it felt as though the community was dying. That, as much as the problems with the game itself, helped fuel the mass exodus of players. As the most vocal players lost their passion for WAR, so did other players.

In my mind, MMO’s need two things: a solid game as foundation and an active fan base prepared to talk about the game. World of Warcraft obviously owes its success to being both an enjoyable and accessible MMO experience. But just as important is the passion and enthusiasm of the player base in writing and talking about the game. It’s a case of players inspiring other gamers to stay part of the community and continue playing the game.

That’s something very hard to replicate.

ZOMG! Avoid the slippery slope argument! Friday, Nov 6 2009 

buyKT

A widdle pet for only $10? Sold!

Blizzards decision to add $10 vanity pets to the game has stirred up the blogging community. Some are “meh”, others think it’s poor form and others think it’s inevitable. For me it’s a “meh” issue. Logging in last night just before my Ulduar run there was a fair bit of guild chat about it: consensus was it was “kinda cool”. Most people wanted the mini- Kel’Thuzad (Lil’KT).

How many players are willing to buy them? Hard to say, but this morning when I logged in to play the Auction House I counted two Pandas and one Lil’KT. “Gosh, that was fast” I thought.

Having spent a lot of time in other F2P games I’m surprised it took Blizzard this long to move into a micro transactions. I don’t see this as a desperate move by Blizzard, but inevitable given this is becoming the predominant industry trend. Big name “AAA” MMOs are adopting the model. Simply put, it would be foolish of Blizzard to ignore the trend.

Consider the following moves by their competitors:

  • Dungeons & Dragons Online- F2P with store. DDO has been a notable success, their actual paid subscription went up 40% after they went F2P.
  • Warhammer – tier one content becomes free (ie.e up to level 12) in order to attract more players.

Hmmmm… I can directly download DDO to my PC drive and start playing right now (and it’s a good game). I can do the same for a host of other MMOs. It would be foolish of Blizzard to ignore the moves of their competitors and miss out on the additional revenue. Why not get some of that action?

“Slippery slope argument”

Slippery slope arguments are a logical fallacy. One step does not inevitably lead to another.

Most of the criticism I’ve seen of Blizzard’s move falls into this category. RMT, or micro transactions will not be the “death” of WoW (whatever that means). Blizzards vanity pets are simply another signal of the changes taking place in the industry.

Heck, if they offered a cool looking dragon/drake mount for $9.99 I’d buy it. I don’t have the time to farm Onyxia for the rare mount. It’s very unlikely I’m ever going to get it. Now, if I can buy it for $9.99, I would. Why? For no better reason than I’d like my avatar to fly around on a cool looking dragon. What are those rare mounts but vanity items? That a player has to farm an instance for months does not indicate they worked for it. It means they have a luxory of time others don’t have.

Time is money. If I cant’ farm an instance for a rare mount drop – which neither detracts or impacts from the actual gameplay – due to RL commitments, then why can’t I buy it? Makes me happy, give Blizzard another ten bucks. Everyone happy.

Remember guys and gals, Warcraft is a franchise just like Star Wars, Transformers, the X-Files and Star Trek. The new pets are simply merchandise, just like all the other Warcraft related products out there. It just so happens they’re virtual and you can view them “in-game”. There isn’t a nerd out there without some collectibles related to their favourite franchised IP.

Saying Lil’KT is “ruining” the game is like saying Bobba Fett figurines ruined Star Wars.

A tale of two Paladins Part Four: starter zones Tuesday, Oct 20 2009 

Welcome! Now, go kill things.

Welcome! Now, go kill things.

The Warcraft (WoW) and Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) starter zones throw you into two very different games. While they may share many standard features of MMOs, right way you can see a difference:  WoW and DDO are built on different principles, and the starter zones in each clearly demonstrate this.

Starter zones: making an impression

Starter zones can make or break the game as far as players are concerned. It’s in these areas that we decide whether or not to invest the next couple of months, if not years, of our life with a particular game. So developers need to strike a balance – making it accessible, but also interesting. So how do the starter zones compare?

Let’s have a look.

WoW: solo friendly

My Blood Elf (BE) Paladin starts her journey on Sunstrider Isle, a tiny island North of the Eastern Kingdoms. The art work is very good, I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics of BE architecture, armour and weapons. It combines a distinctive blend of Medieval Japan and Vikings with a vivid palate of reds, golds and greens. The Isle itself is “shrouded” with a mystical glow.

The starter zone acts as a very gentle introduction to WoW that will teach you the very basics of the game: collect your quests from a NPC with the famous yellow !, kill requisite number of rats, hand in for XP. Oh, and level. Level as fast as you can.

Some of the exciting tasks the quest masters will give you include:

  • Killing feral cats
  • Killing feral floating eel thingies
  • Killing feral trees that look like Druid tree forms

Fortunately the Isle is a well designed and small quest hub, so you can power your way through these quests within an hour. You should zoom past your fith level and collect a few additional spells by the time you’ve completed the quests on Sunstrider Isle.

However the experience is kinda forgettable – nothing really stands out as a fun or unique experience. It’s pretty, and BE’s are the best looking avatars in the game, but really the idea is to put you on the levelling path.  To me, the levelling process is like going on auto pilot – enjoyable, meditative but not particularly challenging.

After the Isle, you’ll move into Eversong Woods and reach the BE Capital of Silvermoon City. The quality of the quests do pick up, and the artwork is simply gorgeous. It’s here you’ll also have a chance to pick up your professions.

The most important thing you will learn is just how easy it is to solo the game. The message is clear: take your avatar all the way to level 80 by questing. Grouping really is an option and for those who like the social aspects of MMOs, or want to see the content. But really, a solid month of playing WoW will allow you to easily level form level 1-80 without breaking a sweat. WoW really is built for the casual player. You can jump in for ten minutes or spend all day grinding quests. Go as fast, or as slow as you want.

Still overall, it’s a good introduction to WoW. If you enjoy yourself here, it’s very likely you’ll love the rest of the game.

Overall ratings

  • Artwork: 4/5
  • Quality of quests: 3/5
  • Enjoyment: 3/5

DDO: instanced group experience

DDO dumps you on the shorelines of Eberron. You stand dressed in rags, confused and somewhat dazed. Wreckage litters the beach, and a small halfing waves you over for a chat. Soon he escorts you to a small camp where you meet one of the Warforged, a humanoid robot thing.

One thing you’ll notice is how much text there is to read. DDO is a very literate experience. Like a true RPG game, you can select different questions to aks the NPC. Reading all the text options gives you the back story. For WoW players this will seem very slow and annoying. “You mean I have to read the text! Just tell me which 10 foozles to kill/collect!”.

From there you’re directed to your first instanced dungeon experience. The starter dungeon teams you up with other NPCs who conduct you through a of walk through of the dungeon. The purpose it to get you acquainted with grouping mechanics and the nature of dungeons in the game. Overall, it’s a fun and satisfying experience. It’s not challenging, as it is effectively a tutorial.

One of DDOs interesting features is the Dungeon Master voice over. As you enter a dungeon, and proceed throughout you will hear a voice tell you “You notice a lever…” or “There is a strange shuffling noise ahead of you…” This is a classic nod to DM’s of yesteryear and adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.

During this first dungeon you’ll learn about combat, healing stones (waypoints where you regain health), basic group mechanics and traps, locks and puzzles. All in all a terrific introduction to the what DDO is about.

Following this you’ll enter Stormreach, the local town and quest hub. I started just after the F2P launch, so the place was packed with hundreds of players. From there you can gather some quests and jump straight into even more dungeons.

Right at the start you can select the level of difficulty of dungeons: from simple to expert. The simple “setting” is ideal for those attempting to solo. Expert content is great for those in groups. My advice: find a group, and the rewards will be better and the experience will be a lot more fun. DDO shines as a group experience. You can also run the same dungeon again, and again.

The quality of DDO’s dungeons, even in the very early stages is very high. Indeed, some of WoW’s later end game dungeons cannot compare with the variety and ingenuity of an average dungeon in DDO. You’ll be asked to solve puzzles, disarm traps and find secret doors. Because the combat mechanics are very different, each time you run a dungeon the experience will be very different.

There is a profound difference between DDO and WoW. DDO is a much slower experience – it’s less about levelling, and more about exploring dungeons.

However, I missed the feeling of being in open world with forests, skies, rivers and mountains in the background. Because most of the action takes place in instanced dungeons, DDO can feel a bit more claustrophobic than WoW. Like it’s pen and paper parent, DDO is all about dungeon crawling with less emphasis on the wider world. In WoW, you feel your travelling across a large and varied world.

Still, I’m impressed with my first foray into DDO.

Overall ratings

  • Artwork: 4/5
  • Quality of quests: 3/5
  • Enjoyment: 4/5

The point of difference: accessibility versus “challenge”

If I had to summarize the difference between the two is WoW’s accessibility versus DDO’s more traditional RPG focus. DDO is about building your character to compliment its group role. WoW allows you to create an avatar that can easily solo the entire game.

You can take your WoW Paladin into instanced dungeons or group to complete some of the quests, but that’s not really necessary. In DDO, you must group to get the best out of the game. The combat mechanics, emphasis on puzzle solving and grouping make DDO more challenging.

But DDO has a steeper learning curve than WoW, and it’s hard to beat Blizzards knack for making things accessible.

Other articles in series

Let slip the dogs of war: Warcraft PvP Monday, Oct 19 2009 

A traditional form of dispure resolution.

A traditional form of dispute resolution.

Five tips for budding Battleground players in Warcraft

As indicated in my previous post, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what to do with my level eighty Paladin in Warcraft. The truth is, I don’t have enough time to level all my alts. I’m cutting back on other games so I can concentrate on one at a time.

Not because I don’t enjoy them, but I’d actually like to do some other things with my spare time (next year I’m contemplating going back to do some post-graduate studies in history).  So, after much thought I’ve decided to focus on PvP and to a lesser extent end-game raiding in WoW. 
 
PvP is far more friendly to my time, as I can jump in anytime for as little as 15 minutes or for a night of player-versus-player fun. It’s gaming on my terms and in my time.
 
The open field of battle

I enjoy the PvP Battlegrounds best – everything from Warsong, Wintergrasp and Isle of Conquest. I not particularly found of Arenas. They’re far too gear focussed and “claustrophobic”. I prefer open fields of battle, with larger numbers of players fighting it out.

It feels more like a medieval battle – ramshackle, chaotic affairs with just enough strategy and luck thrown in. But it pays to do some research. So for those contemplating a career in BGs, here’s five tips for a better BG experience.

Tip one: PvP starter set, make the investment

Do not step into a BG in PvE gear. All those lovely tiered sets and epic purples you’ve collecting in your Naxx or Ulduar runs are no good for PvP. Two key attributes of PvP gear make all the difference: resilience and stamina.

Stamina gives you extra health – obviously you’ll need it in a PvP fight. Resilience will reduce the chance you’ll take a critical hit – thus reducing the damage you’ll receive. Sets will also boost your chance to “crit” (critical hit) the enemy player. In other words, you’ll hit harder more often.

As a paladin I invested in a complete set of “Savage Saraonite” gear – the best starter set for a DPS plate wearer. If you’ve got the blacksmithing skill (425 skill), you have the option to craft the complete set. If not, go the Auction Hose: good news is that individual pieces are cheap – you should no more than a couple hundred gold on a complete set.

WoW.com has a great little overview for paladins (Holy and Ret) here.

Tip two: choose a role to play in the BG

Before stepping into a Battleground, ask yourself what “role” you’ll be playing. Battlegrounds are essentially PuGs. Random strangers thrown together who are expected to somehow co-ordinate and work towards shared goals. They can also be an abusive environment, as players hurl insults at each other for not “playing” well. Avoid the abuse – and increase your fun – by deciding your role. Your choices include:

  • Flag runner (FR) or Capture  – your role is to capture enemy flags or points
  • Healing – focus on healing your team mates –
  • Damage (DPS) – Yes, I’m talking facemelting Warlocks
  • Tank – take damage on behalf the group, as long as there is a healer of course
  • Escort/interception – escort flag runners, stop enemy players with your flag
  • Gaurd – hold strategic points from the enemy.

More often than not your class will dictate the role you will play. In  Warsong Gulch, Druids and Rogues make the best FRs. They can sneak into flag rooms, pinch the flag and have speed advantages. Paladins excel as escorts for FRs, healing/debuffing them as well as stunning and interrupting enemy players trying to stop the flag capture.

Victory in Arathi Basin goes to the side that maintains control of strategic points. The best teams have players standing guard (or close by). It may seem less exciting than running around the map, but you are guaranteed to have plenty of fights on your hand if you stay at the Lumber Mill or Black Smith. You can tell the worst players in Arathi. They’re the ones constantly respawning after death and trying to capture the Farm again and again, and again…..

My advice, pick *one* role and try and do that well.

Tip three: know thy enemy

Generals from Alexander the Great onwards have sought to understand their enemy so as to defeat them. The same is true in BGs. Learn something about the other classes you’ll come up against so you know how to mitigate their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. Lets take Rogues as but one example (the bastards!).

They are particularly troubling for many players – their ability to stealth, stun and deliver a burst of DPS can be devastating. As a Paladin I know my “Everyman for themself” can get me out of a stun while my “Judgement of Righteousness” can stun them in turn.

In a pure DPS fight, the rogue has the advantage. But if I can stun them for a moment, heal myself and negate their stuns I have a better chance of surviving. Those few seconds allow other players to come to my aid burn down the rogue.  Everyone hates Rogues in BGs, seeing one in trouble is a temptation too good to miss.

The same for each other class: know their tricks, and learn to counter them.

Tip four: travel in a pack

BGs are not a place for heroes or the lone wolf (unless you’re a Rogue of course…). Attempting to solo BG objectives will result in death. No exceptions.

Look for your team mates and hook up with them. Use the map to  see where they are concentrated, and pay attention the chat so you know what’s going on. Play the part of healer, escort or DPS. And don’t be afraid to ask for help or direction. There are enough experienced players in BGs to give friendly pointers. Yes, people can play nice in a BG.

Groups of five or more are the most viable: groups smaller than that will get rolled.

Tip five: survey the battlefield

Do a bit of research before stepping into a BG. Survey the maps available online and read some of the basic strategies. Everyone appreciates the player who makes the effort and knows what to do. BGs are dependent on random strangers working together, and a BG battle flows better and is far more enjoyable if you know what goals you are working towards.

You’ll learn more about the BG from actually fighting in there, but don’t go in blind. It will be a frustrating experience for yourself and other players.

How did I go then?

Did I take my own advice? Of course! And it went well. Firstly, I achieved my “1000 honourable kills” achievement over the weekend.

Even though I went in with far lower level gear than many other players, I ranked in the top third in all the “post-match” tables: less deaths, respectable DPS and quite a few honourable kills. I also got quite a lot of honour points to start upgrading my gear.

I set objectives for myself, and achived most of them. Being less geared than most players, I think I did pretty well by concentrating on being a valuable member of the BG team.

Chasing the purple: is raiding “fun”? Friday, Oct 16 2009 

I stepped away from raiding in WoW for two weeks – due to some real life issues – and to be honest a break from “chasing the purple” was much needed.

I went back to a “casual play style” and it was a lot of fun. Running dailies, maxing up long neglected trade skills and doing some of the heroic dungeons felt like a much needed “holiday”. I finished off exploring some zones I’d not fully seen and even started fishing! Fishing! For five years I swore I’d never pick up that skill, but there I am standing on shoreline of Northrend fishing.

However, my best WoW experience in the last month had to be purchasing the Wyrmrest Accord drake mount. Normally my funds are reserved for epic gems, enchants and flasks/elixirs (all for raiding of course).

But having build up a few thousand gold, I decided what the heck. I’ve always wanted a dragon for a pet. So off Augustine the Paladin went to visit the Wrymrest vendor. I’m glad I did.

The moment I summoned the mount and launched myself from the tower I felt the thrill of enjoyment. I spent a good ten minutes simply flying around Dragonblight – wheeling, diving and swooping. Simply enjoying the feeling of “flight” for my avatar on a cool looking dragon mount.

Did it make me a more l337 player? No. Did I enjoy flying around on my little pet dragon? Yes.

So, my experience of the last couple of weeks has made me think: is raiding fun?

Upon reflection I have to say yes and no.

It’s fun when a you run with a good group and you get to see the endgame content. Blizzard has created some incredible dungeons and intricate boss fights. They’re enjoyable, cinematic and fun. Each raid dungeon advances the Lich King storyline – I’m looking forward to running Ulduar, Ony’s Liar and Icecrown.

I wanted to be there when my usual group first hit Ulduar, but couldn’t be there. So I feel I’ve missed the shared experience.

Still, what is less fun is building your entire game around raiding.

Recently I ran some Naxx 25 man raids. Obviously the rewards for 25 man gear are better – and from a strict gear progression POV necessary for Ulduar – but the experience was less fun. It’s far more impersonal. It’s more about 25 people concentrating *really hard* to get it right, and there is little banter or sense even a sense enjoyment. More a grim determination to “finish this boss” and “get that gear upgrade”.

Raiding requires a commitment akin to  a job. Yes, every commentator has made that analogy – but it’s true. When you spent your entire week focussed on researching boss fights, looking for the next gear upgrade and farming gold for materials it gets, well, repetitive.

It can also suck the enjoyment out of the game if you continually worried about how good your gear is.

Will I give up raiding?

Not yet. I do want to finish Ulduar and the Icecrown fight in patch 3.3.

But after that, I’m not wedded to chasing the purple. I’m looking forward to the Cataclysm expansion resetting the old world. It will allow players to enjoy the levelling experience again, explore and enjoy the shared experience of seeing new content.

World of Franchise: the great movie/MMORPG tie-in Friday, Oct 9 2009 

WoW now generates over $1bn revenue for Activision-Blizzard. That’s the equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie and then some. Warcraft is a brand with global recognition, and while not as pervasive as Star Trek or Star Wars, it’s a significant piece of pop culture. Brands like this don’t want to remain stuck in a niche corner of the gaming market. They want to expand by taking their IP into different mediums. And for Warcraft, its cinema.

We’ve seen videogames made into movies (Resident Evil), and franchised video games based on movie IP (Golden Eye). And as most WoW players know, Sam Riami of Spiderman and Evil Dead fame is making a Warcraft movie. Now, as a player I’m excited. Very excited. But I bet the shareholders of Activision-Blizzard are even more excited.

There’s a very strong possibility that Warcraft the movie will be a blockbuster film generating hundreds of millions of dollars. It will spark even greater interest in the Warcraft franchise.

Think collectibles, figurines, boxed sets of the Warcraft games, novels, trading cards, merchandising deals with fast food companies… we’re talking freak’n monster huge.

Goodbye MMORPG niche

Lets say “Warcraft: the movie” (WTM) is a hit. If you think the game has already been taken over by the hordes of great unwashed, wait until the additional millions of customers flock to the Warcraft MMORPG after seeing Riami’s film. These players will be excited, desperate to experience the content and immerse themselves in all things Warcraft.

But as it stands, WoW has several barriers to their enjoyment. The levelling process is notably smoother now, but it’s still an enormous shock to many players when they reached the fabled “endgame” when WoW switches from casual-friendly to raiding game.

WoW’s success – and the potential growth in even more customers after WTM – posses a challenge to the traditional levelling-raiding model that most MMORPGs have followed. WoW owes it’s heritage to the MMORPG world, but it’s already transcended it.

After “Warcraft the Movie” WoW will be an extension of the film experience. But that can only happen if you make the game accessible to the broadest possible audience.

So goodbye uber-l337 raiding game, and hello “Your World of Warcraft Experience (TM)”.

“You’ve seen the film, now enter the World of Warcraft!”

Imagine WoW with 20 or 30 million players. Absurd? Maybe. But after a huge movie, not inconceivable.

If Blizzards numbers grow beyond the current 11 million – on the back of a successful film – it’s hard to see how the traditional levelling-raiding endgame paradigm will work. It’s unlikely they’ll want to spend six months levelling a character if they can only play a few hours a week. They don’t want to spend week after week patiently collecting Tier 10 gear, endlessly tweaking their talent tree and spending hours researching boss fights on WoWWiki. Players will want to act out parts of the movie.

They’ll see Stormwind or Orgimar in the film, log into the game and expect to walk the streets of Stormwind. And they will want the magic swords, flashy armour and drake mounts too. Sure, there will always be content for dedicated “raiders”, but the game no longer revolves around them.

Whildwhine, a blogger I admire, notes that Blizzard is herding everyone into the endgame for the Arthas fight:

“Blizzard want everyone to run Icecrown Citadel when it comes out. They want everyone to kill Arthas – the big bad guy of the expansions like Illidan was for TBC – and they don’t care if they have to push them kicking and screaming into the instance to get them there…”

He/she is right. Blizzards want’s everyone there. Blizzard is giving away gear. The endgame is not as *hard* as it used to be. But the game has transcended the old levelling-raiding model.

WoW is but one piece of the Warcraft franchise that includes strategy games, an MMORPG, comics, trading cards and very shortly a film.

As a consequence WoW is being smoothed out, rebuilt, tweaked and made accessible in order to cope with it’s future growth as a piece of franchised property. So this means faster levelling and reducing the barriers to endgame content. It means rebuilding the old world – via the Cataclysm expansion – to support the demands of casual players.

WoW is ever so slowly, but surely, morphing into a “Warcraft experience”.

Aion versus “The MMO that shall not be named” Tuesday, Sep 29 2009 

"Go on say it biatch! My MMO is the best!"

"Go on say it biatch! My MMO is the best!"

It’s fascinating when a new MMO drops and witnessing the ensuring controversy, blog commentary and inevitable comparisons to “The MMO that shall not be named” (TMMOTSNBN is a mouth full, so lets shorten it to “The Unnameable MMO” or UMMO for short).

Yes kiddies I’m talking about the supposed battle between World of Warcraft and Aion. But let’s be honest: this isn’t a fight.

Aion is aiming for the number two spot of Western MMOs. Why? Because they’ve seen plenty of other MMOs try and fail.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

If it was a cage fight – UMMO vs Aion – we know who’d win. UMMO is in a different class all together. It’s too big, too powerful and has the subscribers and resources to take on anyone and anything. UMMO has a punch that will knock down the most confident of challengers.

Just ask Mythic. They’re still on the mat, dazed, groggy and punch drunk long after the referee has finished counting, the crowds have gone home and the stadium lights have been turned off.

But the comparisons made by bloggers, players and forum trolls will continue for weeks, if not months. The most anticipated event after Aion’s release will not be the announcement of a new expansion, but when NC Soft releases subscriber figures for Aion. It is then that the interwebz will pronounce Aion a success or failure.

For the moment we’ll have to put up with the simplistic comparisons. We Fly Spitfires notes how the General Chat in Aion is dominated by WoW/Aion comparisons:

“Aion has a pretty lively General Chat channel on my server and one of the topics that seems to crop up on a regular occasion is World of Warcraft. Usually it’s initiated by someone saying something like “Aion is way better than WoW”, “go back and play WoW”, “WoW is for care bears” or the witty “WoW sucks”. Suffice to say it’s enough to cause a storm in the chat channel as the few people who actually seem to like Warcraft try stick up for it against vast, insurmountable odds. It seems like everyone’s a WoW hater these days. I guess it’s no surprise considering how WoW has so few subscribers compared to the other MMORPGs out there. Oh wait…”

It was exactly the same on my server. It was also noted by the store assistant when picked up my collectors edition: “I’ve heard great things about this game, it’s supposed to give WoW a run for it’s money!”

Well, it’s good that Aion has great word of mouth. But I’m not sure the UMMO/Aion comparisons helps. Bottom line: it’s far too early to tell. Well get a true picture of the game once a sufficient number of players reach the “end game” and there’s been time to reflect.

Aion: the case for cautious optimism

Wall of Text makes a great point, noting time is needed to judge a MMO. I have to agree:

“The moral of the story is to temper your enthusiasm about a game until you’ve experienced more of it. A lot more of it. Just a dose of reality for those enamoured with Aion, Fallen Earth, or even Champions Online right now. Give it time before singing its praises, you could end up eating your words…”

Right now I’m enjoying Aion. Graphically it’s a stunning game. I don’t think this is too controversial a point to make. However it’s still too early to say much else.

Presently I’m playing both a Scout and Warrior – both of whom are about to “ascend”. I’ve not decided on which will be my main: I’m experimenting, testing the mechanics of each class and deciding which play style I enjoy more.

However I’m not prepared to claim Aion “Worlds Best MMO!”.

Instead I’m cautiously optimistic. I think it’s an enjoyable game, well produced and with great “polish”.

That does not mean I’m about to cancel my WoW sub. I’m too deep into the end game to simply give up. Aion gives me variety. How far I go into Aion will depend on how much I personally enjoy the game.

My recent travels through out the MMO world have convinced me that most games have their strengths and their inevitable weaknesses.

The moral of the story? MMOs come in different flavours: it’s a question of personal taste which one you enjoy most.

Tasty MMO goodness! Thursday, Sep 24 2009 

There are days when I just love the playing MMOs. Yesterday was one of them.

I collapsed into bed well after midnight feeling warm and fuzzy about all things MMO last night. Two things made it a great day…

Aion: got the box

Firstly, I picked up my collectors edition of Aion. It’s pretty and has a cool figurine.

I’m going to wait a week until the usual launch issues of server queues and connection issues shake themselves out. I’m not too concerned about what I’ve read in other blogs… I’ll wait to see myself.

Being a proud MMO tourist I have no issue in dipping my toe into Aion’s waters to see if I like the game.  However Aion is not front of mind at present… especially since my WoW Group finally cleared Naxxramas last night!

Woot!

The Fall of Naxxramas

It’s taken nearly two months and a lot of hard work, but our group finally cleared Naxxramas last night. We took down the final boss just before midnight. The feeling of the group was ecstatic. I feel I’ve passed an important MMO milestone: clearing and endgame instance. 

It’s only been in the last few weeks that the group line up become solid. Once we had the right players we started breezing though content. The tanks, well tanked. The healers, healed. The DPS did some serious damage. Our co-ordination was great. We worked as a group with a common interest. We also had a lot of fun as well.

This is what can make WoW’s end game so enjoyable.

Sapp was one shotted. Damn we were pretty pleased with ourselves:

One shot

Not so tough now eh?

Kel’Thuzad we took down on the third attempt. Massive cheers and clapping could be heard over Vent.

Up popped the achievements and “Gratz” flowed in from the guild.

I also picked up two more Tier 7 pieces last night, so I’m feeling pretty special. OK, they’re Tier 7 and item level 200 (For non-WoW players you can get Tier 9 sets). 

Sure, there’s better gear out there… but I look hawt!

I love the smell of victory...

I look like a professional raider now.

It also means I’ve made the final graduation from casual  to serious raider. With Naxx under my belt I’m ready to move onto Ulduar.

It was only in late July that I entered the world of raiding. All the research, collecting gear, working on building a team worthy of the challenge… it all paid off.

What I felt last night was enormous satisfaction. Sure, killing a dragon in an MMO does not change the world. But everyone in the group felt a real sense of accomplishment.

This is why I play games such as WoW: for the shared experience. Ten people who would otherwise be strangers get together and set out to achieve a goal.

Naxxramas is the perfect level entry raid dungeon. Ulduar may test the group in other ways, but I’m confident we’re up to the challenge.

By the time Patch 3.3 hits, this group just might be ready to take on Arthus.

A Tale of Two Paladins Part Three: Combat Mechanics Tuesday, Sep 22 2009 

Combat: a significant difference

Before moving on to quests and exploring the worlds of DDO and WoW it’s worth examining their respective combat systems. If there is a real point of difference, it’s DDO Active Combat System (ACS) versus WoW tab-target auto-attack for paladins.

Active Combat System: DDO’s tactical approach to battles

Swing, miss! And there's the D20 dice!!!!

Swing, miss! And there's the D&D dice!

It’s with combat that we see a real difference between WoW and DDO.

DDO utilises what it calls the “Active Combat System”. Combat happens in real time, and is dependent on your ability to actually aim your sword at the enemy MOB. Indeed, DDO combat reminds me of the same mechanics as a first-person-shooter: there is a small red circle indicating where you attacks are aimed.

In order to swing you weapon you have to click the left mouse-butto and be in range of them.  Combat involves a lot of clicking: you will miss a lot. Enemies can block your attack and will frequently move out of the range of your sword blows. Often you end up chasing them to deliver a final, killing blow.

As a nice touch, the famous twenty sided dice (the D20) can be seen rolling in the bottom right of the screen indicating your “hit roll”. Pen and paper of old players rejoice!

Combat in DDO is fluid and dynamic, as MOBs dance and jump away from your sword. Situational awareness is crucial: when fighting more than one MOB you often need to decide on taking down the monster wailing on you or running over to take out that pesky caster throwing damage your way. You also need to be careful taking on multiple MOBs when soloing.

I rather enjoyed the choatic, free-flowing feel of the combat. It’s like being an old 1930’s Errol Flynn film where you chase the enemies around a room wildly flinging your weapon at them.

It’s also a lot of fun.

  • Advantages: tactical combat that is interesting and skills based, therefore more of a challenge.
  • Disadvantages: it can take some getting used too, especially if you are used to conventional MMO combat systems.
  • Rating: 4/5

Warcraft’s Tab-Target approach: familiar MMO territory

Die magic eel!

Die magic eel!

We’re in safe and familiar territory with the WoW combat system: target your MOB by either clicking on them or hitting the Tab key; pull them with a spell or get within aggro range; let auto-attack do the work and cycle through your abilities in the Action Bar; watch your health so you don’t die; rinse and repeat. Abilities will be subject to cool downs: manage these as best you can.

MOBs in WoW are suicidally stupid. I mean, really, really stupid.  They will run up to you and stand there until they die. Occasionally humanoid MOBs may try and run away. Unlike DDO’s MOBs who jump around and try to avoid being killed, MOBs in Warcraft have a death wish.

Knowing what your abilities do is obviously helpful, so take the time to learn these. As you level you will get more offensive spells (Judgements etc.) and buffs that will enhance your defence or attack capabilities.

Situational awareness plays a small part in combat, at least in the early parts of the game. For a plate-wearing melee class it’s enough to simply walk up to a few MOBs, throw a Judgement of Light spell on them and whack, whack, whack.

The combat animations and sound effects are themselves interesting: and they have to be. You don’t actually need to pay much attention to the combat on the screen, unlike DDO when a MOB can dance out of range of your sword.

WoW combat is about managing your cool downs and your health.

  • Advantages: it’s simple, it works and anyone can master the WoW combat system.
  • Disadvantages: no real disadvantages to WoW’s combat system, except that it lacks any excitement. This is especially the case at the lower levels, where the lack of offensive spells and abilities for the Paladins mean you’re almost completely reliant on auto-attack.
  • Rating: 3/5

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