Rift – Nightmare Tide

I’ve been playing nothing but Rift since the expansion came out.* If you even remotely like the game, you should definitely check out Nightmare Tide. I’m a little biased though, since I think Rift is the best themepark MMO out there, far surpassing WoW in every possible way. (Except in the amount of available content and player population.)

Just thought this was a nice vista in Goboro Reef.
A nice vista in Goboro Reef.

Good things about Nightmare Tide:

Ridiculously Plentiful Gathering Nodes. In Storm Legion, mining and foraging nodes are pretty few and far between. In Nightmare Tide, you trip over them every two steps. My mage started with Foraging at 375 but Mining at only around 50. (I had decided much earlier that I was going to add all of the gathering skills to my main, but hadn’t gotten around to leveling them.) So I went back and leveled up Mining before I spent too much time in the Plane of Water. It only took a couple of hours to get from 50 to 300 in the “old” zones. But then I hit the Storm Legion zones and progress ground to halt. It took most of the day wandering around to get from 300 to 350, because suddenly you couldn’t find any mining nodes, and on those occasions when you did, you only got like 1/3 of a point! Once I got to 350 it was easy to get to 375 by grinding on some mobs up in Dendrome. I also leveled up Butchering and ran into the same problem. Huge dead zone between 300 and 350. Then you go into Nightmare Tide and you can’t move an inch without hitting a plant or a mining node or something to butcher. This is what I call a good adjustment by Trion. (It would be nice if they could go back to Storm Legion and double or triple the number of nodes.)

Carnage Quests A-OK Now. In Storm Legion, I became pretty irritated by all the Carnage quests. It got so that I actively tried to avoid killing things so another stupid quest wouldn’t attach itself to my already-huge list. I guess it’s not that I didn’t like the quest objectives, it’s that you could never finish one before two new ones popped up. In Nightmare Tide, I’m not seeing that anymore. The Carnage quests seem to be just right. (Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to them.)

Zones Appropriately Sized. In Storm Legion, the zones are enormous and they seem mostly empty. Except for the accursed Carnage Quests. In Nightmare Tide, the zones seem to be just the right size. Or rather, they are still enormous, but there is stuff in them all over the place.

Gyel Fortress, the location of a new dungeon in Nightmare Tide.
Gyel Fortress, the location of a new dungeon in Nightmare Tide.

Leveling Pace Exactly Right. Unlike Storm Legion, where leveling from 50 to 60 was a rather daunting grind-fest, leveling through these three new zones seems just right. I have not yet gotten Patron status, and I don’t feel any need to do so. Without any bonuses (other than the 25% bonus they gave because of the outage) I’m still plugging along at a decent clip, even out-pacing the zone quests a little bit. So if you end up using a lot of bonuses, you’ll probably zoom to 65 in no time. So 5 levels in 3 zones seems like the right call. Good expansion size. Now if we could get one of these every six months instead of every year, it would be even more awesome.

Minions. At first I was befuddled by the minion system. I didn’t really know what it was good for. But then a weird thing happened. I kept sending out minions on adventures even though I didn’t fully understand the appeal, and then I still kept doing it, and then later, I still kept going back and sending out more minions on adventures. I don’t exactly love it, but there is something really compelling and interesting about it that keeps me coming back. I even bought two more slots. It seems to be the only way to get Artifacts in Nightmare Tide zones, because I haven’t run across a single Artifact out in the wild yet. Also you get just crap tons of Dimension Items, if you’re into that. I’m not particularly into that, so I just keep dumping them into my trash heap of a dimension to get them out of my inventory.

76 stages in a Silverwood Nightmare Rift is the best I've done so far.
76 stages in a Silverwood Nightmare Rift is the best I’ve seen so far.

Nightmare Rifts. These things are awesome. The only problem is that some jerk wad will inevitably try to sabotage the group’s progress by pulling mobs away from the center. (Public Service Announcment: Make sure everyone is on board with pulling the mobs to the center so everyone can AoE them down faster. If you’re a DPS and you get aggro, run to the center and stand there, don’t run away like a dufus.) If you’re in a big guild or whatever, I think you can open private Nightmare Rifts so you can avoid that.

By the way, if you’re afraid that the expansion is all about swimming, don’t worry. You only have to swim for about the first 15 minutes. Then it’s mostly land again. (Which also means you mostly wasted your money if you bought that shark mount.) There was much, much more swimming in the Song of Dreams mini-expansion last year. (Last year?!? Good lord I didn’t realize it was that long ago.)

* I almost killed off my geese in ArcheAge.. I logged in to find them starving and half of my fruit trees had already died off. By the way, I have heard people say they think ArcheAge is somehow similar to the look and feel of Rift. I just can’t see it. They are totally different to me.

Landmark’s Combat Update

Is something I know very little about.

I re-downloaded the game and eagerly logged in. Combat was here! Finally something to do besides dig up ore! My claim was long since gone, which was fine because it had nothing on it except some crafting tables. I ran to the crystal hub thingy in the middle of the map–an object that I still don’t know what to call–and found the right table to craft a weapon. I made a sword. I equipped it.

Then I stood there. I clicked the left mouse button. I swung the sword. It swished impressively in the air. I clicked the right button, and I charged forward to deal a thrust of doom. I looked for something to attack. There was nothing. There were no monsters roaming around. I walked up to someone standing there by the hub AFK and swished my sword at him threateningly. Nothing happened. There was no thunking sound and no numbers flying in the air. My sword went right through the guy.

Swish swish! It's combat! Uh, sort of. I guess.
Swish swish! It’s combat! Uh, sort of. I guess.

I logged out after a few minutes because, as is typical of all “major” Landmark updates, it was a total dud that barely changed anything about the game. (Don’t yell at me: I have no doubt that internally it’s a huge change.) I don’t know about anyone else, but when I heard “combat” I kind of expected to find some monster hordes roaming around the countryside jealously guarding the ore.

After reading around a little bit, I discovered that SOE pulled a clever bit of marketing bait-and-switch. Because “Combat” really means “PvP.” Why obfuscate the PvP? Well, clearly there’s nothing that social sandbox builders want more than PvP, right? I mean, SOE definitely nailed the pulse of their target audience with that one. I’m sure that players who have spent many hours building houses are falling all over themselves lining up to test PvP.

Assuming they can even figure out how to do it. My initial sword-swishing at a fellow player produced very unimpressive PvP action. Later, I logged in again, and suppressed my enormous disappointment with the new update for long enough to figure out (I think) that you have to find a claim on the map that has been flagged to allow PvP. Presumably if you run to that PvP claim, you’ll find someone else there ready to do battle.

My “home” zone only had one claim with PvP flagged. I didn’t feel the slightest desire to go there and fight somebody, so I logged off again.

So there we go. SOE started out saying that they were 60% finished with Landmark at the beginning of alpha. I think now they might have reached 65%. Maybe. Regardless, it’s still not a playable game.

I can’t help but wonder if there will be a dropoff in population when (if) the game is actually finished, if it’s nothing like what people have been playing for the last six months.

Far Cry 3

Continuing my journey through cutting edge games from two years ago (also games I’ve already paid for), I’m finally playing Far Cry 3, previously purchased in a Steam sale.

I enjoyed the first Far Cry. Well, I say that now, but when I look back on what I wrote about it in 2009, apparently I only thought it was “okay.”

I picked up FarCry from Steam for $9.99 a couple weeks ago.  It’s pretty cool, but it’s not blowing me away.

I’m not sure why X-Play gave it 5 stars.  It looks like it’s mostly a demo of the rendering engine, which is admittedly pretty nice.  However the gameplay is quite ordinary, and the acting and storyline is just terrible.  You’ve got your basic running, crouching, shooting and reloading (that always seems to be necessary at just the wrong time).  And sometimes you can drive around in boats and vehicles.

The best feature of the game is the wide open, huge islands you get to run around on.  There seems to be an emphasis on sneaking around, although I don’t see the point since there aren’t any sneak attacks, silencers or knives.  I can’t say I’m fond of sneaking around in the jungle though because you literally can’t see anything – the foliage always blocks your view.  Maybe that’s supposed to be a “feature.”  On the plus side, it’s kind of fun to take out camps of bad guys by popping them off one at a time from the edges, instead of charging into the middle with guns blazing.

I’ll give it a 3… out of 5.

Ah, remember the good old days when I watched X-Play? Well, you probably don’t because you weren’t there. Moving on.

I only played Far Cry 2 on the PS3, one of only a handful of console games I’ve bought in the last ten years. I remember thinking it was “okay” but I didn’t much like the openness of it and I didn’t care for the console controls. Here’s what I wrote later in 2009:

… I’ve also started FarCry 2 for the PS3.  The story is nothing like the original FarCry, sharing only a name that honestly has nothing to do with anything.  This time around you’re running (and driving) around an enormous chunk of Africa.

It’s one of those open-world style games, so you can do the missions in any order you want.  I actually find this style of game a little annoying – I get a better sense of accomplishment from linear games.  With open games I usually feel like I’m wandering around aimlessly for no particular reason.  FarCry 2 is not so bad, though – it actually feels a little like an MMO.

I tried some multiplayer but I was not impressed.  The lag was pretty intense so it felt like playing on a dial-up connection (maybe nobody was running servers near me).  Plus most of the maps that came up were user-generated, which means they pretty much sucked.

Much later I bought Far Cry 2 in a rock-bottom Steam sale so I could compare the PC version. Naturally I’ve never even installed it on PC, let alone played it.

Which brings us to Far Cry 3, nearly five years later.

Honestly I feel like the game is virtually identical to what I remember of Far Cry 2: Running and driving around a jungle capturing control points. It’s just that now we’re in a South Pacific jungle (I think) instead of an African jungle, and now we can hunt animals and rip their guts out to make things. All the NPCs sound like they have a weird mixture of African and Australian accents. The story is still stupid and uninspired, but I do enjoy roaming around capturing the Bad Guy outposts. I associate Far Cry with stealth tactics more than running-and-gunning, but I feel like I’m doing even more stealth in this version than any previous version. I hardly ever charge into any situation with guns blazing. I mainly use a silenced sniper rifle, a bow, and “takedowns.”

I started out playing with a controller just for simplicity of it, but I wasn’t happy with my inability to hit anything. (I haven’t played a shooter with a controller in ages.) So I went back to the ol’ mouse-and-keyboard setup.

Also, to prove to the world that I’m still a “real gamer” and not just some dirty casual old man, I am playing on the Hard setting. So there. Suck it, people-who-thought-I-wasn’t-a-real-gamer! Not that anyone ever did. (Actually I’m playing on Hard because the gameplay is more fun than the story.)

I doubt that I will “finish” the game. Like Far Cry 2, I’d be fine putting it away without finishing the story. One day I will simply not want to play it, and I’ll pick something else from the library.

Neverwinter – Scourge Warlock First Impression

By accident I noticed that Neverwinter released a new update called Tyranny of Dragons, in which they added the very cool-sounding new class Scourge Warlock.

Scourge warlock in action

In terms of gameplay, however, I found the SW a little on the “meh” side. I feel like they might have borrowed a lot from the Control Wizard because it felt very similar to me. (My first level-cap character was a CW.) The main attack is the same kind of triple-bolt spell that the CW uses.

Scourge warlock in action again

I was considerably more impressed by the gameplay of the Hunter Ranger class a while back. (I just now realized, as I went to look for a link to my previous post on the subject, that I never actually posted anything on the Hunter Ranger. Oops. Oh I remember now: I did a stream of it which I didn’t save and is now lost to time.) So if I had to pick one of the two new classes, I would go with the HR.

I will say that the SW does a crap-ton of damage in the first seven levels. It’s sort of like the Trickster Rogue in that regard. You just walk into a room, spam the mouse buttons and a couple of encounter keys, and everything dies around you. Unlike the TR, however, the SW uses a lot of colorful animations to do it.

Speaking of animations, has anyone noticed that the human running animations in Neverwinter are awful?

Overall I was a little disappointed in the Scourge Warlock, at least through level 7. It sounds like it should be a lot cooler than it actually is. Perhaps it gets better later on, but for me, the gameplay wasn’t interesting enough to go through the same repetitive Neverwinter quests again. I still stand by the Great Weapon Fighter as my favorite class in the game.

If you’re wondering, I did not spend the megabucks to try out the Dragonborn race.

P.S. If you are like me and can’t remember how to take screenshots in Neverwinter, you have to /bind it to to the printscreen key manually: /bind sysrq screenshot_jpg. (Of course, you can bind it to whatever key you want.)

The Witcher 2: Skip the Tutorial

It seems like years ago that I bought The Witcher 1 & 2 in one of those deep-discount Steam sales. I spent about 15 minutes playing The Witcher 1 (enough time to watch the opening movie and then get to where I could feel the intense pain of the combat controls), and then never played it again.

The Witcher has a comet!

Lately I’ve started to see some buzz about The Witcher 3, and I see that it’s now available for pre-order on Steam. To my mild surprise, among the blogs I read, the announcement of a third Witcher game has been roughly akin to an announcement about the return of Firefly to television. People seem to love these games, and they are dying for the next one.

So I decided to take another look at The Witcher series. Since I had such a bad experience with the first one, and knowing that the second one had better controls, I just skipped ahead to The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

But still, I hated it.

I started with the tutorial, and I tried to play with the mouse and keyboard as I usually do with PC games. It was awful. The interface appeared to be hopelessly complicated. I put it away for a while. Then I tried it another day with an Xbox controller, and found it marginally better, though I still found the tutorial to be awful. I put it away again.

Then I tried it one last time with the controller, but this time I skipped the tutorial.

Suddenly The Witcher 2 turned into a real game!

Despite the ridiculous trope of starting out a prisoner, I found myself drawn into the story almost immediately. And that right there is why I think people love The Witcher: The story. It’s another one of those games where the “game” part kind of gets in the way of the story. I played it on Easy, so I could get through the gaming as fast as possible, because the real meat of the game is in the cut scenes, as far as I’m concerned.

And there are a lot of cut scenes; long, long cut scenes. This is not a game you can play while watching television. It is television. Have a bowl of popcorn handy.

The only down side to The Witcher 2 is that it isn’t long enough. I played for 32 hours and felt like the main story ended rather abruptly.

Anyway, the point is that now I’m a Witcher fanboy too, and anxiously awaiting The Witcher 3 along with everyone else (that trailer is awesome). But if you’re having trouble getting started in The Witcher 2 like I did, I heartily recommend that you skip the tutorial. There is nothing fun about it.

P.S. I went back and tried The Witcher 1 again too. I’ve only made it to Chapter 2, but I’m able to tolerate the horrible interface a little better now that I know there is a good story to see. Also, some of the story in Witcher 2 makes more sense after you play Witcher 1. (Like the whole memory loss thing.)

Assassin’s Creed 3 Story Finished

Taking a small break from MMORPGs for a bit and getting back to Steam. I went back to Assassin’s Creed 3 because I wanted to finish the main story before I considered getting any of the newer installments in Steam sales. (I don’t yet have Black Flag and I see now there is a new one coming out soon.) I resumed the AC3 story about halfway through and powered through to the end, largely ignoring all of the side missions and sandboxy elements.

My impression of the game was much better the second time around than when I first saw it. I think because after the halfway point, the viewpoint of the story doesn’t change. There is somewhat of a bait-and-switch at the beginning of the game, where you start out playing one character and then switch to another. (For myself, I happened to like the first character better than the person who turned out to be the real protagonist of the story. The first character makes a welcome return toward the end of the game, though you don’t get to control him.)

For me, the Assassin’s Creed series has always been more about the story than the game itself. And for me in particular, I have always been more interested in the modern-day story with Desmond than the historical stories, which is why I’ve been disappointed that there was been less emphasis on it in the later installments of the game. The story in this episode wasn’t bad, but I don’t think it matched the quality of Assassin’s Creed 1 & 2. In those early episodes, there was a mystery to the events surrounding Desmond that wasn’t there any more. It felt like it was merely tacked on, and it felt like they may have concluded it so that they don’t have to worry about it in future games, which is a disappointment.

The biggest gameplay problem with Assassin’s Creed continues to be the frustration of having your guy do something you didn’t want him to do. You might want to chase an enemy over open ground, but your avatar decides that you meant to climb up a wall instead, and then you have to convince your avatar to climb back down and resume the chase, but your avatar instead chooses to side-jump to a window, or jump into a pile of hay, or just sit there doing nothing, and by then your quarry is long gone. It doesn’t happen often, but it almost always happens at the exact time that you need it not to happen, and then you feel like flinging your controller away in disgust.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed 3 was a good game, if not great. I’ll be waiting for Assassin’s Creed 4 to go on a deep discount sale, though, before buying it. I didn’t dislike the ship warfare in AC3, but it wasn’t a selling point for me, and I have heard there is a lot more in AC4.

Black Gold Online Closed Beta Impressions

I happened to get a closed beta key for Black Gold Online from an MMORPG.com giveaway (I think) a while back. I was super excited, because I thought I was getting a Black Desert key. But alas, Black Gold is not Black Desert, so I forgot about it until I tried it out in a fit of boredom over the weekend.

It seems that there is no NDA so I guess it’s safe for me to post this.

The fantasy side of Black Gold Online.
The fantasy side of Black Gold Online.

I’ll just cut to the chase: Black Gold Online is not good. It’s one of those games designed and developed by businessmen rather than gamers. You know the kind I mean. It’s a free-to-play business model with a graphics engine attached.

It’s supposed to be a steampunk-themed game, which is cool. But there is no reason whatsoever to pay attention to anything that is happening on the screen. When you get a quest, you can click on a button that will pathfind you to the objective. (Apparently there is a setting so you don’t even have to trigger the pathfinding.) None of the mobs aggro so you can walk right through them. You kill the one mob you need to kill in two or three swings of your most basic attack. New loot is automatically equipped if it’s better so you don’t even have to look at your inventory or the stats. Then you pathfind back to the quest giver. More often than not, you gain a level. You gain like 10 levels in the first hour of gameplay. Tutorials lead you through every mouse click with mind-numbingly condescending step-by-step instructions.

That is not the kind of gameplay that I enjoy, and the graphics are not good enough just for sight-seeing. They aren’t bad by themselves, but the UI clutters the screen with a lot of junk, and the fonts are absolutely horrible. In fact, the UI looks a bit like it was designed by someone whose credentials consist solely of making web pages for Geocities back in the 1990s. Sorry if that person is reading this. I know I would be crushed if someone said that about anything I’d done. I think if just that one thing could be improved, it would vastly change the first impression this game makes.

Such a lovely font and UI you have, Black Gold Online.
The Geocities Interface, complete with blinking.

Oh, and the Snail account password only accepts letters and numbers. Let that sink in. I feel compelled to point that out whenever I see a web page that does that.

On the plus side, I did not experience any bugs and the game appears to be quite finished and ready for launch. (Unless it’s a bug that none of the mobs in the first 10 levels of the game attack you.) Of the many kinds of beta you see these days, it is the “it’s basically done and it’s not going to change before release but we want to test it under some more load and if you happen to find something, that’s great” kind of beta.

So I would only recommend trying it out if you are incredibly bored, have a fast download speed, and need something to chuckle at for an hour or so. I can’t condone paying any money for it. Though I think there is room for a good Steampunk MMO in the market, this game is not it.

WildStar – Are You Sure It Gets Better?

According to my site statistics, I should be writing about ArcheAge and nothing but ArcheAge. But since I’m no slave to the SEO system, I’m going to write about WildStar instead. (Because everyone else is.)

The skinniest hero in the land.
The skinniest hero in the land.

I’ve already pre-ordered, but lately I’ve been forcing myself to play in the open beta anyway. I use the word “forcing” deliberately, because I’m having a hard time getting excited about this game.

I think maybe I’m too old for the WildStar demographic. When I play it, I feel like I’m assaulted by lights and colors and sounds. It’s like I’m at a rave (or, ahem, what I imagine a rave would look like). It’s almost impossible for me to find anything on the screen, because nothing “stands out.” It’s a kaleidoscope of bright colors, like a city at night lit up by neon signs. Nothing looks like it’s highlighted because it looks like everything is highlighted. I spend quite a lot of time running in circles trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go. If there was ever a game that needed a sparkly trail to follow, it’s WildStar.

What the holy hell am I supposed to click on.
My eyes! My eyes!

And the yelling. All of the NPCs yell at you. The Real American Heroes beer commercial level-up guy yells at you (it is that guy, isn’t it?). He also yells those summaries of new areas when you enter them. The “challenge begins now” guy randomly yells at you when you kill some random thing, and then yells at you again when you fail the challenge because you don’t give two goddamns about killing 20 foozles in 2 minutes while you’re trying to find a quest NPC.

I’d like to say that the combat makes up for all that but I’m just not feeling the combat vibe. It doesn’t feel right to spam hotkeys instead of the left and right mouse buttons when you’re moving around so much. There should be an option to lock into permanent mouselook mode and map actions to the left and right buttons, like TERA, Neverwinter, and ESO. And it’s kind of a shame that I never get to watch the character animations because I’m always staring at the ground for telegraphs.

Major gripe: There’s no mouse sensitivity control. That’s an epic fail of an oversight. The WildStar camera probably spins three times faster than any other MMO I play.

Okay, okay, I haven’t gotten past level 7 on any class, so I really shouldn’t be saying anything. But honestly most of the classes aren’t that great in the beginning. The Warrior is the only one that actually feels “fun” to play. The rest I feel like I have to “endure” until later in the game (they do get better, right?). I think part of it is because most mobs’ combat is melee-based, so they run up to you, but most of your combat abilities are ranged, which is just weird. There’s that whole “shooting guns at point-blank range” vibe that we all love so much. (Not.)

(By the way, this game does not in any way feel like science-fiction to me, any more than WoW’s golem technology or Rift’s Defiant technology feels like science-fiction.)

Is it too late to cancel a pre-order?

But no. I can’t very well make fun of it without playing it, now can I?