Snap Judgment – Shroud of the Avatar (Free Trial)

I read on MassivelyOP that Shroud of the Avatar was having a free trial “test” (whatever that is) so I downloaded the game and tried it out last weekend. I’ve seen increasing buzz about the game and I was curious to see if there was anything to it.

I only played for about an hour, and while I can’t say I was dying to play more, I did find it interesting enough to leave it on my games to continue watching. It had a number of things you just don’t find in traditional MMORPGs.

The biggest problem (or perhaps feature) I saw was that the game felt a lot more like a single-player game than an MMORPG to me. I didn’t see any compelling reason to play it in the multiplayer environment. There is a single-player offline mode and a single-player online mode. And for those people who actually have gaming friends, there is also a friends-only online mode. I can’t imagine why anyone would play in any other mode. In this day and age, strangers rarely do much to enhance my online games.

Still, I played the multiplayer online just to see it. I saw a grand total of perhaps a dozen people in the game, most of whom were fellow visitors. Nobody tried to talk to me or emote at me or even look at me, as far as I could tell. Most everyone was interacting with an NPC.

The game’s conceit* is a bit of a cliche, if you ask me, but it’s at least worth mentioning: Your character finds the game world on the Internet, basically. That is, your character finds arcane texts and rituals and whatnot on the Internet, invokes them, and is pulled into the game world. I don’t think it’s ever been done before in an MMORPG (with the possible exception of The Secret World), but it certainly has been done a lot in fiction. (The Thomas Covenant series and Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger books are two that immediately spring to mind.) I even wrote a short story once with that cliche myself.

After the cut scene that sets up how you found Britannia on the Internet, the game starts with an unusual character selection process. The “Oracle” asks you a series of questions to decide your class. I didn’t care for it, honestly. The game tells you that you should play an archer if you’re new, no matter what you picked. Regardless of what you pick, the mechanics appear to be skill-based, not class-based. I give them points for that, at least. I greatly prefer skill-based games. Now that I’m writing this, I wish I’d looked more closely into the character system.

NPC interaction is done through Morrowind-style hyperlinked text. I thought it was an interesting concept in Morrowind where you have all the time in the world to read NPC text and respond but I don’t see it working that well in a modern MMORPG scenario. I especially don’t like typing responses to NPCs. We as a species have evolved beyond Zork-style RPG interfaces, in my opinion. I suspect they got a lot of negative feedback about the typing because there are also selections you can click on so you don’t have to type anything.

After character selection you’re taken to a solo instance to teach you the basics of the game. You get to run around a burning village and rescue a kid (or not, if you want). There were a surprising number of things you could do in the little instance if you looked around.

Combat is very, very strange. The game tells you to point at targets and shoot them, but in fact you can point anywhere and still shoot your target. Somehow you “lock on” to a target and your arrows go there no matter what direction you’re pointing. I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s a weird hybrid of tab-targetting and action combat.

When you finish the burning village instance, you click on a boat and warp to the starter village, and at this point I started to wonder about the technical implementation of this game. It’s pretty clear that you’re always in an “instance” of some kind, and never in a big open seamless world like you’d expect in an MMORPG. (Though honestly, very few MMORPGs do seamless worlds any more.) The starter town is an instance with fixed boundaries. When you leave the starter town you enter an “overland map” instance where you move your tiny little avatar like a Monopoly game piece around. When you get to a place of interest you transition out of the overland map back into another instance. And so on and so on. It feels very much like a single-player game, like Dragon Age, for example.

I understand this game is built from the Unity engine, so it’s not that surprising to see it running into technical limitations with large seamless maps. As far as I know, nobody has ever implemented a full-blown MMORPG with Unity. (Not at the AAA level at least.)

Graphically, the game looks decent, if not great. It’s good enough that it wouldn’t stop me from playing it, and maybe even good enough to become immersed in the world. (I didn’t take a single screenshot while I was playing the trial though. The images in this post were grabbed from the video I recorded.) Character animations weren’t that great, though. The jumping animation made me laugh.

I’m glad I looked at it but I suppose I was left more puzzled than anything. It really feels like a single-player game that they’re trying to convince people is an MMORPG. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I feel like they would be more successful marketing it as a co-op RPG. I mean it feels like a game that was literally designed from the ground up to be a single-player RPG. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t try to sell it that way.

* I’m embarrassed that I used the word “conceit” in a sentence like that.

Snap Judgment – Revelation Online

Yes, that’s a miniature panda on my head.

Last night I took a look at Revelation Online for the first time. I played for about 45 minutes. I don’t have much to say about it, except I didn’t particularly care for it.

It’s a solidly average anime-style MMORPG that takes no chances. It’s an Asian version of a WoW-clone. (A Lineage-clone?) I saw nothing that advanced the MMORPG genre in any way.

I didn’t think it looked that great. They went for a more cartoony cell-shaded sort of style instead of a more realistic style like Black Desert or ArcheAge. It looks a bit like that 2D style that you see a lot in fighting games. I didn’t care for it or the character animations. Everybody moved around like they were playing Mortal Kombat and did not need to obey the laws of physics.

I picked a Gunslinger class. I lost interest in the storyline within about ten minutes. It starts out with mundane tasks to teach you the game. You can literally have the game do the quests for you. It goes beyond simply auto-running to the quest location: It will actually kill the quest mobs for you, too. Is that the only way to fight bots in MMORPGs now? Build the bot behavior directly into the game?

Beware nuclear fallout.

It’s not very efficient if you let the game play for you, since it only uses auto-attacks. But the combat is so easy that auto-attacks are still overpowered. I saw nothing particularly interesting about the gunslinger combat (there was plenty of movement and flashes and sounds but it all just ran together), except one “grenade” ability that sort of looks like a mini-nuke explosion. You get way more combat abilities than you actually need at the beginning.

Double-tapping any movement key makes you dash about a mile in that direction. Double-tapping and holding forward makes you run like The Flash. You get wings so you can fly around, too, in case you get tired of running. I found it a bit difficult to control the flying. It goes so fast that if you blink you’ll zoom past where you’re supposed to go. And you can’t just take off and land like you’re accustomed to with flying mounts, you have to hit a special “fly” key.

Fly! Be free!

I’m getting bored just writing this. I wasn’t into this game at all. It was a big chore to play for 45 full minutes. :) There was nothing new or fresh or exciting to be seen, it was all “more of the same.” The environment was bland. The story was bland. The gameplay was bland. I didn’t see anything that might pull me away from a game I was already playing. Here are the only two things that really made an impression on me:

First, the game starts off in a window for some inexplicable reason, and I could find no way to change it. You have to go through the whole character creation and a cut scene and enter the world before you get to a point where you can configure the game settings to go full screen. (You can hit alt-enter to switch to full screen but it was the wrong resolution for my setup.)

Second, the idle animation of the gunslinger actually shoots birds out of the sky. Your guy shoots straight up like Yosemite Sam, and then some blue birds and a big white duck plop to the ground. It was pretty funny. That was definitely the highlight of my playing time.

In a nutshell, Black Desert, ArcheAge, TERA, and even Aion are all better Asian imports and I would recommend playing any or all of those first. Play Revelation Online if you’re a games journalist and have to play it to write a review, or if you’re a streamer and have to play new games constantly to keep your audience. Otherwise I could only recommend it if you’ve already played everything else and you’re really bored.

P. S. I did not see any bugs or connectivity issues typically associated with a launch, so there’s no worries there.

Amazon’s New World, Part Two

From a draft written somewhere around October 2016…

I finally got around to watching Amazon’s teaser video, thinking that it would erase my earlier skepticism and soften my opinion about their upcoming games, and maybe even start to get excited about the possibilities.

Unfortunately it only pushed my skeptical buttons even harder.

“What if a game was built for Twitch,” wonders a voiceover 12 seconds into the video. Instant buzzkill. The video goes on to mention Twitch about five times in the first 60 seconds, before anything about games. If we go with the assumption that what they put into the very beginning of their video is the “hook” and therefore the most important message they want to deliver, we have to assume that Twitch integration is the most important part of their design philosophy for these games. And if Amazon making games to target Twitch viewers is not a corporate-synergy-driven game design, I don’t know what is. It’s as if they accidentally put the video meant for their shareholders out to the public.

The bottom line is that we don’t know anything about New World right now, except that it’s main, repeatedly-stated purpose is to synergize with Twitch. Which, to me, is not a selling point. When I look at the Twitch ecosystem, and indeed the whole streamer sociography, I see something that’s very difficult to comprehend. Lately I’ve been thinking of streamers as the modern-day equivalent of dancing monkeys or traveling freak shows. Probably an unkind comparison, but that’s the kind of content that seems to rise to the top.

I don’t understand why they’d reveal anything at this point and leave so much room for rampant speculation. They’re talking about this game even earlier in the development cycle than when ArtCraft started talking about Crowfall, which was incredibly early, and now seems so long ago that Crowfall feels like it’s come and gone already.

LotRO Volume 1, Book 14 – The Sloggiest Journey

Another post rescued from my drafts…

Book 14 begins with Laerdan preparing for a journey south. He asked me to collect a bunch of gear for him that he left strewn around Eriador, because the hero’s journey always involves fetching stuff. It was a lengthy, boring scavenger hunt.

When I returned to Rivendell, Laerdan was gone. In a note, he said he sent me away so I wouldn’t interfere. I spent all that time collecting his gear for nothing. But I wasn’t bitter about it. Much.

He left his journal open to a section describing his imprisonment in Sammath Baul. Upon reading it, I felt myself having an out-of-body experience, in which I uh … ah, screw it, I can’t think of how to maintain a narrative voice. I played a “Scenario” in which I observed Laerdan during his imprisonment.

After my “vision” I returned to Elrond. There I experienced another “vision” showing that Laerdan had run to Eregion to re-forge the ring Narhuil and rescue his daughter Narmaleth. He was, of course, captured, and the ring fell into the hands of Amarthiel. (Because Narmaleth is Amarthiel.)

Before Amarthiel could fix the ring, she needed some dragon wings to fix the forge. Elrond sent me back to Forochel to find and kill the dragon Bregmor (apparently the only dragon available) before Amarthiel got to him. Forochel was as dismal as ever. The cave where the dragon lived was dismal and also full of some guys. Unfortunately, when I reached the end of the cave, Mordambor had beaten me to the dragon and killed it.

Poor dead dragon.

I returned to Elrond with the bad news that I’d failed to get the dragon wings. As punishment, he sent me to the ring-forge Mirobel in Eriador to confront Amarthiel and Mordrambor.

It was another slog through a big space full of bad guys, but I finally got to the dramatic conclusion. Amarthiel sicced Mordrambor on me, but I defeated him. Laerdan arrived and confronted Amarthiel (still in the body of Narmaleth, Laerdan’s daughter), but she killed him. Before I could fight Amarthiel, a surprise mystery guest appeared: Mordirith. Mordirith took the ring from Amarthiel and flew away, leaving her broken and defeated.

Thus endeth Book 14.

For most of this book, I was incredibly bored. The only parts I really enjoyed were a brief section of the first Scenario (the part where you kick all the sleeping guards), and the final confrontation with Mordrambor, Amarthiel, Laerdan, and Mordirith way at the end. The rest was an endless, joyless slog.

Speaking of Scenarios, I believe this is the first time I’ve seen one in LotRO. I like the concept, but when you have to do combat it ssssssuuuuucks. As soon as you put me into a POV character where I have a whole new set of abilities, I get pretty annoyed. I spent all this time learning my character’s abilities, and now I have all this new stuff!? It took sooooo long to fight through all the mobs in those Scenarios because I essentially auto-attacked through everything.

Which brings me to one reason why this was a dull book. My character is level 55 now and admittedly over-leveled for this content. But there was no challenge in it whatsoever. A couple of times I literally got up from my desk during a battle, re-filled my coffee cup, and came back to find I’d killed everyone. It’s hard to maintain any sense of excitement in those kinds of combat situations. It’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to defeat the mobs.

After posting a bunch of these chapter summaries, it occurs to me that I could simply post a link to Lotro-wiki.com and save myself a lot of time in the future.

The Repopulation Worries

Rescued from the drafts folder…

Blatantly stolen from therepopulation.com because I don’t have any screenshots.

I was initially glad to hear that The Repopulation will be coming back. I splurged in a moment of weakness and bought it for $20 on Steam back in February 2015. I don’t remember why I bought it. I think I had heard some positive feedback about it, and I had heard also it described as being heavily inspired by Star Wars Galaxies, and I was curious to see what a SWG-like game looked like. (I’ve never even seen SWG, let alone played it.)

I played it for an hour or two, and I would give it a solid “meh.” It definitely had it’s roots in older MMORPGs, and it had potential as a complex sandbox. It’s one of those games you have to study before you can play it. It was such a throwback that it actually started out with a tutorial! And I don’t mean quests that serve as a tutorial, but an honest to god tutorial, like in days of yore, where the tutorial is directed at the player, not the character.

But the reason I didn’t like it so much is that the game had significant graphical problems and a distinct lack of optimization, so I didn’t think it was very playable at the time. It was like playing a game written in Visual Basic 6, if you know what I mean.

When last I heard about The Repopulation, they were porting it from the Hero Engine to the Unreal Engine. I thought that was a great idea. Then it disappeared off the face of the earth.

Then I heard it was coming back. I thought this was great news.

Until I heard how it was coming back. I credit this revelatory information to the MassivelyOP podcast 100.

Apparently they are transferring ownership of the game from Above And Beyond to Idea Fabrik, the makers of the Hero Engine. The speculation is that they will be abandoning the Unreal Engine port, and resuming operation as a Hero Engine game. It sounds like there’s a pretty strong chance that they are going to release the game in its unfinished state and call it a finished game.

If that’s the case, I would recommend avoiding it. Unless they sell it for like $5 or they make it free-to-play. And if they do make it free-to-play, do not buy anything.

Idea Fabrik will apparently have The Repopulation back online soon.

P. S. I played a few hours of Fragmented, the survival game spinoff of The Repopulation, and it actually wasn’t terrible. I was expecting a train wreck, so maybe not such high praise. If there weren’t so many other survival games to play, I might play more of it.

Revelation Online’s Stealth Launch?

Stolen from their web site because I don’t have any pictures for a post about this game.

As I was catching up on MMORPG news story titles in my feed reader, I noticed that Revelation Online had started Early Access on February 27. For all intents and purposes, this is what we would normally call a game launch. You have to buy a Founder’s Pack to access the game “early,” but supposedly there will be no more character wipes, which sounds a lot like a launch to me. Certainly plenty of other MMORPGs have made a huge deal about this kind of event (eg. ArcheAge).

Revelation Online is one of the MMORPGs that was on my radar for 2017, though I can’t say I’ve seen much of anything to make me want to play it (other than “it’s a new game”). As far as I know, Bhagpuss of Inventory Full is the only person in the MMORPG blogosphere who has commented on it, and those impressions from closed beta made the game sound fairly mediocre.

But since yesterday’s launch, the Twitters and the blogs have been otherwise dead silent about this game. I had to double- and triple-check to make sure that this launch actually happened. Normally after every new MMORPG launch, I see somebody somewhere talk about their experiences on Twitter, or blog about their early impressions, or something along those lines. A new game normally inspires people to write at least a little bit.

Have we as consumers finally reached a line across which we won’t go? Have we decided we won’t pay for Founder’s Packs anymore? Have we declared that we won’t participate in Early Access MMORPG releases as if they’re full launches? Is there hope for getting back to the days when a launch meant a finished product and not the earliest, buggiest version that doesn’t crash immediately?

Or is it that Horizon Zero Dawn completely overshadowed Revelation Online’s soft launch? :)

For myself, I’m perfectly content to wait until Revelation Online’s open beta begins March 6th, which I will be using as a free trial. I anticipate either forgetting to download it or being unimpressed.

FFXIV – Void Ark and Weeping City

First there was Void Ark. I watched a guide on YouTube but I didn’t understand much of it, so I just jumped in. (It’s easier to learn mechanics first-hand.) It turned out to be fairly straightforward to get carried through there. Just like the Labyrinth of the Ancients raid at 50, everyone is so over-leveled that you hardly even see the mechanics, and mostly all you have to do is follow along, avoid AOEs, and pick up the loot. I got most of the Bard 200 gear (except the belt) and moved on to the next tier.

(I also got a ton of gear for alt classes, too, but I’m running out of places to put gear. Seriously, Square Enix, can you look into this? You’re usually very good about quality-of-life improvements, but storage of alternate gear is still a blind spot.)

Incidentally, the Void Ark Bard gear looks silly. My character looked like a 1950s bell hop.

May I take your baggage?

When I passed item level 205, I entered the Weeping City. It’s a totally different story. MTQ’s guide is split into two parts, which should give you some idea of the complexity of the mechanics. I watched both parts … and retained maybe 1/10th of what I saw. Once again I just jumped in. I knew I was never going to learn it without first-hand experience. These are public raids–they’re usually designed so that only half the participants really need to be well-versed on the mechanics to get through it. (As opposed to the “real” raids, where every single person needs to be on the ball.)

I actually got through the first two bosses without dying, but not so much on the last two. I went and ran right off the edge of the Ozmos platform with the marker, knowing full well that it would happen, while still somehow thinking that an invisible wall would stop me because there are always invisible walls in FFXIV right?

Anyway after I got out of there the guides made a lot more sense. Still, there are some pretty intense mechanics in there. (The Triangle shape on Ozmos is the one I have the most trouble with. It’s so hard to see when you get hit with that Acceleration Bomb thing.)

Looks relaxing, right?

One thing I’ve learned after going through Weeping City around 10 times now: The community doesn’t seem to know this raid very well, even after all the time it’s been out (6 months?). There’s almost always one alliance that wipes at some point, and there’s almost always a complete raid wipe one or more times. (Frequently on Ozmos.)

Another thing I learned is that the Bard boots never drop in Weeping City.

Okay, they finally dropped last night. The Weeping City gear still doesn’t look as good as the Centurio gear.

My next milestone is item level 235 so I can get into Dun Scaith. But first I apparently need to find a High-capacity Tombstone so I can upgrade my weapon.

And no, I still haven’t done the Antitower to continue the Main Scenario yet. PUGing 4-man dungeons is way more intimidating than 24-man raids, or even 8-man raids. In a 4-man dungeon it’s impossible to hide from all your newbie mistakes.

FFXIV – The Road To Void Ark

Thanks to a bunch of tips, I learned that what I should have been looking for as a Crystal Tower-replacement is called Void Ark, not Alexander. It took me a little time to figure out how to unlock it, because the quest that takes you to it starts out in Foundation with some random guy on the street who doesn’t look like he would ever lead to anything good. I found him from the 3.1 Patch Notes.

So Void Ark is unlocked, but of course it requires item level 175 to enter.

But thanks to another tip, I learned that those Clan Hunts I did for an experience boost also give you these things called Centurio Seals, with which you can buy a ton of item level 170 gear. It never even occurred to me to look around for a Seal vendor (I wish they would label NPCs as vendors). I already had a bunch and could buy some new gear right away. Over the course of a handful of days, I picked up the full set of 170 gear, which looks pretty spiffy.

Unfortunately it still left me at item level 168. I only had one of the 170 rings. I ran a few more dungeons and whatnot to put together enough Tomestones of Lore to buy an item level 230 ring and … I’m still one point short at 174.

But I expect with one more piece of 230 jewelry I’ll get to the 175 mark. It won’t take too many dungeons to get another 375 Tomestones. I’ll probably be doing that even as this post is publishing.

As far as the Main Scenario I’ve reached the next gate, which is The Antitower dungeon. It requires item level 175 180 too so I would have had to go through upgrading my gear anyway. Apparently I’m already into the 3.2 story, so it’s going faster than I expected. [Updated with the information I left out when I was writing at work.]

It’s also getting harder to say anything or post any screenshots about the story without a significant chance of spoiling things for people who haven’t yet played Heavensward. I already showed a spoiler in a previous screenshot without even realizing it. But then I noticed that Square Enix themselves put a pretty significant spoiler at the top of their Patch Notes for 3.5, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it.

Now that I’m in the “endgame” I’m starting to think a bit more about how to play this crazy Bard. It seems to me that there might be times where it would be more advantageous to switch the new Ballad off, for example if there is a phase where a lot of prolonged dodging is required. Then again, if you know the fights well, you can often dodge without having to interrupt your abilities too much (I’ve learned this from the Demon Tome in Great Gubal Library). And most times when there is prolonged dodging the boss is invulnerable anyway.

I’m sure there are tons of Bard theorycrafting guides out there but I like to think about this stuff myself before I start consulting the wisdom of the Internet.

The New Guy

On a whim I decided to make a brand new character from scratch. With this character I wanted to play a Ninja, one of the two jobs I’ve never seen (the other one being Monk). I suppose I could have done this on my existing character but to be honest I’m sick of having to manage that Armoury.

At first I made a male Au’ru because I thought it had a neat running animation. Unfortunately every time I stopped running I had to look at this pose:

Ah, that stylish low-level armor in FFXIV.

So after about 10 levels I decided to use my Fantasia potion to change into a male Miquot’e. I don’t like the running animation as much but at least he doesn’t stand like he’s about to do ballet. Here is the new guy after finishing Sastasha as a Rogue.

The neato gloves and boots actually came from doing a couple of Novice instances.

It’s interesting to see the game again from the perspective of a fresh character. It feels like it doesn’t take as long to level as it once did, but maybe that’s my imagination. There are a lot of improvements to the low-level experience that weren’t there before. (Like, for example, you can finally skip that very first cut scene! That alone is a massive improvement.)

P. S. In LotRO news, I finished Volume 1 Books 14 and 15, so I’m finally done with the whole Angmar thing. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a boring slog at times. Someday I’ll get around to writing posts about it.