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?

Rift – Trying Out The Arbiter in 2.7

I tried out the mage tanking soul Arbiter in Rift 2.7 on Thursday night. Overall I was pleased with its performance in Realm of the Fae, but I’m a bit worried that it will be “complicated” to play at higher levels. Take that with a big grain of salt though as I am far from an expert tank, and I have only seen low-level abilities.

The "Arcanist" preset with the Arbiter, Stormcaller, and Warlock soul trees.
The “Arcanist” preset with the Arbiter, Stormcaller, and Warlock soul trees.

If you don’t know, it costs 5000 points/gems/whatever to buy the new souls. I already had 2000 of them, so I could get away with only spending $20 for the 3000 gem package. I suppose it’s possible to get them without spending any real money using those REX or whatever, but that system is too complicated for my economics-challenged brain to understand.

My philosophy on playing new souls is to start with low-level characters and explore the abilities in the order they are given to you as you’re leveling. It’s pretty overwhelming to look over dozens of abilities all at once. So I started at level 14 with a minimal set of Arbiter abilities and some questing around Meridian to get the basic mechanics of it.

The new “preset” build containing Arbiter is called “Arcanist.” I just went with that to start out, even though the presets generally aren’t optimal. It has Arbiter as the main soul, Stormcaller as the secondary, and Warlock as the third. I found that to be a puzzling combination because my cursory glance at the Arbiter skills made me think that Harbinger would have had better synergy than Warlock, perhaps even Elementalist. The Arbiter skills looked to be based mainly on Air and Water. Perhaps they are thinking that you would use the Warlock Drain Health DoT while tanking?

Anyway after some questing, I hit 15 and jumped straight into Realm of the Fae, the first dungeon. Unlike the other tanking souls that I’ve seen, Arbiter gets an AoE attack before level 16 (albeit with a 4-second cooldown), so I didn’t feel like I needed to wait. Combined with the permanent buff that increases threat generation, it made for a formidable AoE-pull in RotF. I rarely lost threat once I’d established it. I only had to use the taunt a handful of times.

I was a little surprised to see that the tanking works just like a sword-and-board tank. That is, you just stand there and let the mobs beat on you while you swing your staff at them. I’m not sure what I expected but I vaguely remember hearing that there might be a summoned pet involved. I thought it would have been cool if they could have turned the pets in the other souls into “true” dungeon tanking pets instead of just emergency tanks in a pinch.

I’m not sure what to think of the Arbiter so far. Previously, my favorite tanking class in Rift was Cleric with the Justiciar soul, mainly because the mechanics are really easy and I can concentrate on positioning. It was certainly easy to tank with a mage in RotF, but will it remain that easy? I guess I’ll find out in the next dungeon.

ArcheAge – It’s The New Black

Remember how I said I talked myself out of buying the ArcheAge Archeum Founder’s Pack? That only lasted through Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday. Then I bought it Sunday. I hadn’t even published my post about how I wouldn’t buy it before I bought it.

Stupid peer pressure.

Stupid ArcheAge RU not being in English.

Stupid ESO not being addictive enough.

Warning: I didn’t feel bad about spending the money because I already knew that I liked the game. If you’re not sure, and you want to try the game before spending $150, I highly recommend finding a way into the Russian version. Or the Korean version, for that matter.

Because it plays exactly like the Russian version, except most of the text is in English, most of the voiceovers are in Korean instead of Russian, and most importantly, you get 5 Labor Points every 5 minutes (online or offline).

But if you just want to take the plunge, rest assured Trion’s alpha is nothing like the Landmark or Trove alpha. ArcheAge is a finished game, it is only lacking English voiceovers and the occasional English text. And, well, it only has one server so it’s pretty crowded. It seems that tons and tons of people paid $150 to get into the game. The starter areas look just like a launch day. The housing areas aren’t quite gone yet, but it’s getting close.

This place is very safe from crows.
This place is very safe from crows.

I found a spot for my scarecrow way in a back corner.

Most of what I’ve previously written about ArcheAge still stands (see Foreign Invasion, Growing On Me, and Flailing Around). Now, however, I will be able to experiment more with gathering, crafting, farming, and trade runs, because I can actually read the tutorials that explain how those things work.

For example, I’ve now been able to build a farm, if you can call a piece of land the size of a postage stamp a “farm.” In a nutshell, the farming is exactly like Farmville (or at least, the ten minutes of Farmville I played before never playing it again). It’s a huge micromanagement time sink. You’re probably going to want to quit your day job in order to fully maximize the efficiency of your farm, because you’ll need to harvest and plant on precise schedules. This part of the game is very interesting, but over the long run I doubt that I will be able to keep up with it.

(As a side note, I have always wondered why more MMOs didn’t insert Farmville into their games, because it seems like a natural fit.)

Now the challenge will be to avoid playing ArcheAge too much. After all, you’ll have to start over again on launch day. (However, I think I heard that the alpha server will be transformed into the test server after launch, so it’s possible you’ll still get to keep your alpha progress in some form. Don’t quote me on that, though.) Ideally, I would want to time it so that I get sick of ArcheAge at precisely the end of the third month after launch. :)

GW2 – Feature Pack Survived

I took the plunge and jumped into GW2, post-Feature Pack. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The meaning of the traits came back to me as I was looking over them, and I dumped points into things that sounded familiar. I haven’t done anything even remotely close to min-maxing in GW2 so it probably doesn’t matter. Also I don’t do dungeons or anything competitive, so my lack of optimization won’t affect anyone but me.

I know that the new wardrobe thing is supposed to be easier, but I still don’t understand it. I have never been into skins, and honestly I don’t think I’ve done a single transmutation in the entire time I’ve had the game. Anyway it looks like it costs Transmutation Charges to change your wardrobe, which I don’t have and don’t know where to find (other than buying them with real money). Basically I got confuzzled and left the wardrobe for another time.

Then I wandered around killing mobs for a little while to see if anything was different. It seemed like the number 1 Necro Axe skill (“Rending Claws”) got weaker while the number 2 Necro Axe skill (“Ghastly Claws”) got a lot more powerful. Other than that I didn’t notice much difference, so I feel like I got my character back to a point where he can tour the landscape and see whatever new Living Story things might pop up in the future.

Overall, I averted the need to uninstall. On the other hand I didn’t see much to get excited about, either. Perhaps leveling another character would make the changes more obvious.

Pingzapper

I tried out a service called Pingzapper that might be useful if you’ve experienced weird lagging in MMOs or I guess really any game.

The alleged problem is that your ISP might be "traffic shaping" your data in a way that interferes with games. They are almost certainly messing up your streaming videos as much as they can get away with, so it makes sense that they would extend that policy to other areas. Because god forbid people should have high-speed Internet that they can use for whatever they want.

Ahem. Anyway, I hadn’t noticed any serious problems with my connection until recently with Final Fantasy XIV (say, in the last two months). It is most noticeable to me in Trial instances which usually require a lot of precise positioning and timing. What happens is everyone will freeze for up to a second (or more!) while I continue to move, then everyone zooms around on fast-forward to catch up to what I’ve been doing. A couple of seconds disconnected from a game is a really long time. You can imagine what would happen if a particularly bad AoE goes down during the lag spike: You die instantly when the lag is over. That categorically sucks.

So I heard about this service called Pingzapper. Allegedly it provides a tunnel from your computer to the game servers through some Pingzapper intermediary server. It’s supposed to hide the game traffic from your ISP, so they won’t interfere with it.

I installed the free demo, and it didn’t crash my system entirely, so I paid for a month, which was 3.99. So far, it seems to be working. I can confirm that those FFXIV lag spikes entirely vanished after I started playing through Pingzapper, and now I don’t feel like I have to over-run every AoE line by fifty feet just to make sure I’m actually clear of it. I was worried the game would feel slower because of shuffling the game data through more servers, but I haven’t noticed anything like that.

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p>All-in-all, I give Pingzapper a thumbs up. For whatever that’s worth. I can see these kinds of services becoming more and more necessary as ISPs continue to try their best to deliver less and less bandwidth.

Defiance Beta Results

defiance-quad1-fullFrom the unpublished archives: I tried out the Defiance beta. It was “kind of” fun but it’s not really my kind of game. MMO shooters never seem that great to me. Lag plays a significant factor in being able to hit anything. Also, maybe my expectations are wack, but I thought all TPS (Third Person Shooter) games were supposed to have cover mechanics. This one didn’t.

One thing that drove me crazy was the complete inability to see enemies and players in the environment until you’re standing on top of them. I hate that. The landscape, NPCs, and players are all shades of brown.

It also had a lot of cut scene action. Sometimes I wish game developers would spend more time on gameplay and user interface and less time on trying to make a movie.

P.S. I have not seen the show.