Aion – Surprise, It's PvP

In playing Aion again, I made a shocking* discovery: It’s open world PvP! I had no idea. I always thought the PvP was voluntary. But nope, I found out the hard way when I was out in Morheim. I got killed by some guy on a skateboard in like four shots. I didn’t even realize it was another player until I was almost dead. Well that sure puts a new spin on things.

I’ve been enjoying Aion quite a lot lately. Leveling seems faster now than the glacial pace it used to be. I made a Gunslinger (one of the new classes) which was pretty fun until around level 17 when I kept getting killed because it has no defenses. Then I pulled out my dusty old Spiritmaster again and slowly worked out all of the problems I was having with him and finished off all the campaigns in Altgard. Then I went to Morheim and bam. Ganked while minding my own business. No more carebear play for me I guess.

But you really don’t lose anything when you’re killed by another player, so even the PvP is pretty carebear. You just lose some time running back from the soul stone (or whatever Aion calls it). So it’s actually not that big of a deal. It was only shocking in its unexpectedness. Now that I know there are these things called "Rifts" that let players from the other faction come in and kill me, I’ll just have to pay more attention.

* Shocking in that everyone knew it was PvP except me.

LoTRO Status Report, 45 Hunter

When I last left LotRO (Lord of the Rings Online) a couple of years ago, my highest level character was only a level 38 Hunter. I stopped playing largely because of this one Epic quest that kept defeating me, and nothing will drive me away from a game faster than a required quest that keeps killing me and/or requires a group. I discussed that quest in another post. When I came back this time, I got past that quest, so progression could resume.

I quested around in the Trollshaws near Rivendell for a while chasing the ninth Nazgul who escaped the Ford of Bruien, but I was getting frustrated with the seemingly slow pace of advancement. When I came back to the game I’d been thinking I would level up my Hunter quickly so that I might have some chance of participating in the then-upcoming Helm’s Deep expansion. So I turned to Skirmishes, which I remembered as a somewhat fast way to level.

They are a bit faster, but unfortunately I found them quite difficult as a Hunter. Neither a tank soldier nor a healer soldier worked very well for me. The tank keeps people off of me, but eventually he dies because I can’t heal him. With the healer I have to tank, and sometimes I take more damage than the healer can heal. I got even more frustrated, so I stopped doing Skirmishes.

Then in the course of going through Chapter 5, still chasing the Nazgul, I made my way into the Misty Mountains, which is a drop-dead gorgeous place to visit. I stepped back and intentionally stopped worrying about how fast I was gaining experience, and started looking more at the world around me. Once I did that the game got a lot more enjoyable. I think you just have to resign yourself to the long haul with LotRO and enjoy the experience along the way.

Nice view...
Nice view…

Since The Fellowship also happened to be hanging out in Rivendell at the time, I got to do a bunch of stuff with them in between looking around for the Nazgul. I got to fight alongside Gimli and Legolas (not at the same time). I got to chat with Frodo while he contemplated his burdens, and I told Gandalf that he was quite capable of handling the journey ahead. I got to deliver some tobacco to Merry, and talk with Bilbo about a riddle. (I tried to warn Aragorn about Boromir but the characters did not respond when I talked to the screen.)

Hit the road, Black Rider!
Hit the road, Black Rider!

After defeating the Nazgul I’d been chasing, which took two attempts, I was then sent to Angmar for Chapter 6. There, I’ve been doing errands for the local tribesmen so that I can put together what looks like a nice set of 5 pieces of leather armor. I have three of the five so far.

One of the things I’ve always liked about LotRO is the complex gameplay. The combat rotations tend to be complicated and different in each situation (when I say "complicated" I mean it’s not just hitting the same attack key over and over; you rarely hit the same key twice in a row). You have to remember to eat food and buff yourself, and slot the right traits and so forth. I like that, because it feels like you’re doing more than just mashing buttons.

The negative side of that is when it comes time to return to the game after an absence, there’s a real learning curve to go through. It took me several days before I felt like I wasn’t going to get killed if I made a wrong step, and actually understood all the keys I had to hit and when to hit them. (It’s not as bad as EQ2, though.)

Now I will gripe a little bit. Part of the complexity also comes from what seems to be a considerable amount of input lag. LoTRO feels like you’re playing on a 300 baud modem on a server in Hellsinki. There is sometimes a large delay between the time you press a key and the time that your character actually does the thing. I’m not sure if it’s me, or their servers, or if it’s an intentional game mechanic–I just know I don’t experience anything like it in other MMOs.

Anyway, I ended up buying a 3-month subscription so that I didn’t have to keep buying things piecemeal. Not sure if that was the most cost-effective thing to do, but it’s definitely the laziest option. I needed some incoming Turbine Points anyway because I use the crap out of those Mithril Coins for traveling back to quest-givers.

LotRO is a fantastic game, but I feel like it’s best when you can devote your full gaming time and attention to it. If you bounce in and out of it a lot, I think it can get frustrating.

Impressions of Wizardry Online

Has anyone seen Wizardry Online? It’s free-to-play, and another one of those hardcore old school MMORPGs that SOE seems to like. It’s clearly Asian in origin, but it’s weird because it’s an Asian vision of standard European medieval tropes like elves and dwarves. The graphics are odd as well. It looks a bit like everything is a low-contrast sepia-toned image.

WO seems to be one of the "hard" MMOs that everyone clamors for (but never actually plays). Some games are hard now simply because the controls are foreign (like EQ and AC–playing those two now is like trying to type on a Dvorak keyboard). WO is hard even with a modernized input system. There are no (well, few) sparklies showing you where to go. Supposedly it is permanent death if you die. (I haven’t died yet to test that out.) Supposedly it is open world PvP and anyone can PK you. (I haven’t encountered any PKs yet.) It’s got an odd combat system where you lock onto targets to fight with them (it’s a bit like Dark Souls if you’ve played that). There’s no renewal of health or mana so you have to drink potions or cast spells to heal. It’s got very limited inventory so you have to really choose your equipment wisely (things that you wear still take up space in your backpack, a super old school concept). You can’t see how tough monsters are until you fight them. You have to identify magic items to see what they are, and you have to go back a place to level up after you’ve gained enough experience. It’s … you know, hard.

It does have a few modern amenities though. It has quests to kill ten rats and so forth, and it has a bunch of achievements.

Other than being hard, though, it doesn’t have many other selling points. I think I only saw one other person playing when I was on over the weekend, and there was no general chat. It doesn’t have any story that I can discern yet.

It’s kind of quaint though. I can see myself playing more if I get bored of another MMO’s grind.

Rift, Great For Introverts

I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that I love(d?) about Rift, and I think I figured it out. It was perfect for an introvert like me who enjoys solo play, but also wants to do group activities without a lot of hassle. Rift’s dynamic rifts and zone events fulfilled that requirement perfectly.

You’re out doing quests to level your character, enjoying the scenery. Then a zone event breaks out, and you rush to the spot marked on your map and find a big group of players there. Ten seconds ago you were by yourself in the middle of nowhere, then in a flash you’re part of a group working together toward the same objectives. You can heal if you want to, you can tank if you want to, or you can just sit back and pew-pew if you want to. You don’t have to spam a chat channel with "lfg" for an hour, you don’t have to sit in a dungeon finder queue, you don’t have to manage a bunch of personalities, you just run to a spot and you’re automatically part of a like-minded group working toward the same goal, without any sense of commitment. When you’re done, you just go back to your quest. It worked beautifully. (You could even ignore the event completely if you wanted to be left alone.)

GW2 has a very similar mechanic with their dynamic events, and I loved doing those while leveling (being able to resurrect fallen allies is awesome). FFXIV has FATEs, and I enjoy them too. Any game that has a way to work together toward a goal without having to "commit" to a formalized social structure is going to appeal to me.

In the next evolution of this concept, they need to find a way to automatically add nearby players to your raid frame so you can heal and buff them without the need to even form a public group.

Undoubtedly all of that makes me sound totally anti-social, but I think it’s more of an introversion trait. (Introverts often look like anti-social jerks to outsiders.) It’s not that I dislike formalized groups and guilds–I did a bunch of guild raids in Rift–it’s just that there is a much higher level of commitment in that, both in time and energy, which I find draining.

WoW Tanks Are Top DPS??

I realize nobody wants to read about WoW, but historically I haven’t played it much, and about 90% of it is still new to me. Well "new" isn’t the right word exactly–it’s more that WoW’s implementation of familiar MMO tropes is new to me. For example, I’ve made a shocking observation in my low to mid-range dungeon runs: The tank almost always does the most damage in the group. Sometimes by a very large margin.

That's the tank up there at the top.
That’s the tank up there at the top.

It’s a bit of a mind-blower when I’m going in with what I think is a pure damage spec, only to get out-damaged by the tank! In every other game I’ve played, the tank has almost no damage output, and is usually second-to-last before the healer.

At first I thought that low to mid-range dungeon runs in WoW are so easy that people simply use a damage spec instead of a tank spec to get through the dungeon faster, relying on their damage to keep aggro. Because it can’t possibly be that the WoW tank specs deal massive damage and withstand massive damage, can it?

Yep, that looks like a Protection Tank to me.
Yep, that looks like a Protection Tank to me.

It seems so. As further evidence, when I play an Arms Warrior, my damage is usually pretty high among the group without any special effort. But when I play a Warlock or a Mage, my damage is usually last place among the damage dealers. I haven’t had the nerve yet to try playing a Protection Warrior to confirm the super high damage. (Not that I think it would be hard; I just don’t want to get yelled at for going the wrong way.)

Perhaps this is just an artifact of the leveling process, and everything will balance out at the level cap. That is, perhaps Warriors do better damage while leveling, but at the cap the Mages and Warlocks catch up. I hope so, because right now it doesn’t look like there’s any reason to roll anything but a warrior for damage.

EQ2 Status Report, 43 Warden

I thought it would be fun to write a series of posts talking about where my characters are in various games. Lately I have been bouncing back and forth between MMOs, so I’ve touched base with a lot of them recently.

At the time of this writing, my main character in EQ2 is a level 43 Wood Elf Warden (one of the many classes of healer, if you don’t know). After a recent spate of playing, he moved from the clockwork-kobold-infested Steamfont Mountains to the icy island of Everfrost.

I’m not really following the story of what’s going on with these quests. When I arrived in Everfrost, it seemed that people on the dock were rather disgruntled about having made the trip there. (Understandably, because being a solid ice field, it did not look like a great place to live.)

Yes, this looks like the perfect place to build a settlement.
Yes, this looks like the perfect place to build a settlement.

One woman’s poor husband had been eaten by sharks and had her luggage scattered everywhere in the ocean. Of course I cheerfully volunteered to swim around the freezing water among the gigantic sharks to pick up her missing stuff. After dealing with the sharks, I moved inland a little bit to some sort of camp. There I discovered that the NPCs on Everfrost will actually attack me if I accidentally hit them with an AoE. Not far from there, on the Jagged Plains, is a dragon broodmother and a bunch of ice maidens who will kill you dead if you make a wrong turn. It’s not a nice place overall.

My main goal with these newest playing sessions has to find a matching set of armor. Somehow I have ended up with a bright white helmet and boots, but brown leather chest and legs. I don’t normally care a great deal about the way my character looks but this is just ridiculous.

How could you let me out looking like this?
How could you let me out looking like this?

I generally enjoy EQ2, but it’s a very strange animal. There is a substantial learning curve because many of its features are just not "normal." One of the most basic things in an MMO–interacting with NPCs–is done differently in EQ2. In most of the universe, you right-click on things to initiate actions. But not in EQ2. When you right-click on things in EQ2, you get a context menu. You have to left-click on things to initiate actions like you’re used to. That was a huge turn-off to me when I first played. I’ve scoured the (incredibly numerous) options a hundred times trying to find a way to change that, but I’ve never been able to find one. It’s almost as bad as a game without an "invert mouse" option.

(I realize that the EQ2 model is technically more "correct" when you consider operating system standards, but you can’t just ignore years of industry standards like that.) (I also realize EQ2 came out before there were years of industry standards, but still, they could have added an option by now, right?)

EQ2 is not easy to pick up after a long absence either. When I came back to my Warden after over a year, I was completely overwhelmed and unable to function. At level 38, I had literally four action bars completely filled with abilities and I had no clue what was what. I didn’t even know what my main abilities were. (To make things worse, I was on a different computer from the last time I played, and all my keybinds were gone.) I ended up deleting every single action bar and starting over, pouring over my abilities until I distilled out a basic set of about ten actions and buffs.

That’s another thing about EQ2. You don’t just have a "heal" ability. You have five (or more) heal abilities, each subtley different from the others. One is a small heal that is quick to cast. One is a big heal that is slower to cast. One is a super heal that is instantaneous, but has a 15-minute cooldown. One heal looks just like the first heal but uses a different "school of magic" or something. And so on. I tried to pick out one or two that seemed like the most general-purpose that would work on myself or others.

EQ2 has a lot of options for character customization. As if there weren’t enough variety in the twenty or so classes, there is also this "Alternate Advancement" system which seems to let you change the basic function of your class. For example, the "alternate" Warden abilities are more melee-based instead of spell-based, which is actually quite cool. But in addition to the regular set of a thousand abilities you get with normal advancement, there is a whole other set of a thousand "alternate" abilities you can add into your action bars.

I guess the theme of this post is that EQ2 is complicated, and you have to work for your rewards. I would definitely not recommend this game to a casual player new to the MMO genre. But once you get past the learning curve, the game is pretty relaxing and enjoyable.

I’ve done exactly zero group content, though. To be honest, I hardly ever see anyone else in the mid-40s level range. I guess everyone else is already at the level cap.

LotRO Helm's Deep Skill Trees

After a patching process that seemed to take hours (possibly because I was playing another game while I waited), I spent a couple of minutes in LotRO to see the class changes in Helm’s Deep. (I am only 45 so I am nowhere near seeing the content of Helm’s Deep.)

It looks like all they did was integrate industry-standard "skill trees" into the game, so you have to choose one of three specializations for your character. For my Hunter, I got to pick from a Jack-of-all-Trades tree, a Ranged DPS tree, and a Traps-base tree. I don’t mind the change but I do think it makes LotRO gameplay a bit less unique. Not something I would rage quit over, though. Who knows, maybe it will bring in some new players.