Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Looks like I picked a bad week to quit Arcane

I'm a regular PuG invitee to another guild's raiding team.  I'll only keep my place as long as their guild is short of raiders, and as long as I'm doing great damage to our enemies, so of course I'm keen to make every improvement I can. Last Wednesday I was looking on to see what mages were ahead of me, when I noticed something I should have noticed a long time ago. The top mages are all fire spec.

When I was levelling, I was levelling as a frost mage. It's great for solo levelling, because you have so many defensive moves. But one day, in the Borean Tundra, I grouped with an arcane mage to down a particularly truculent elite, and I was blown away by his damage output. I went arcane the very next day, and saw my own damage output increase by about a fifth. After that, I just couldn't get enough arcane magic. All through the Wrath of the Lich King, I raided as arcane and was always high on the damage meters. I loved the arcane spec. Then came the Cataclysm.

In Cata, I had a hard time reaching competitive DPS levels, and got replaced in my raid. This was about the same time that Larísa's performance was called into question by her raid leader. I tried out the fire spec, and it was certainly an improvement in DPS at the target dummies. On the strength of showing our raid leader what my numbers were on the target dummies, I was invited back. But I wasn't really happy in fire, and switched back to arcane once my stats rose enough for it to become more competitive again.

So last Wednesday after noticing that all the top mages on my realm were fire mages again, I tried out a fire spec once more, and was blown away by the awesome amount of damage I was able to do to the target dummies. At the weekend, I tried it out in earnest against moving targets, and well ... it was a severe disappointment. I just couldn't reproduce the damage I'd been doing  to the target dummies. I checked that my bombs were up, I checked my rotation, I checked my glyphs, I reforged my gear, but nothing helped.

And then I discovered that between my time on the target dummies and the weekend, Blizzard managed to fit in a massive nerf to the fire spec. Oh, well. Back to Arcane.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Second Life

Syncaine is quite right when he says that the first rule of MMORPGs is that they're for the long term. If you don't keep playing, if you aren't forming connections with your fellow adventurers, then you aren't getting the best out of the game, and perhaps MMORPGs aren't for you.

However there is a second leg that Syncaine is missing, even in the title of his piece: RPG. An MMORPG is not just a team game where as a team you work to achieve a particular goal. It's also a simulation of a world. If you are not immersed in that simulation, then again you aren't getting the best out of the game, and perhaps MMORPGs aren't for you. If the game to you only involves learning the right sequence of keys to press in response to changes in graphics on your computer screen - if you aren't inhabiting that world - then perhaps you'd be better off playing Tetris.

As Nils says (in an article on randomness), "As long as the player is immersed in the simulation part of the game, everything's fine". At some level, you've got to believe you are a mage or a starship captain or a pirate or whatever. Once you start to bring into the foreground of your mind that you're just sitting in a small room pressing buttons, not casting spells or launching missiles, nothing's fine.

And one of the biggest breakers of immersion, for me, is other players (which might help explain to Tobold why some people prefer to adventure in quiet zones) .

RP means playing a role. It doesn't  mean you should start talking stiltedly as if you were in a bad play about Henry VIII, but it does mean you should assume the role of the character you are playing. This is something that sRPGs are very good at: in Skyrim it's easy to stay in character, because every other character you meet treats you as a character in that world. In MMORPGs, the biggest strength - the many players - can also be the biggest weakness, as other players constantly jolt you out of immersion.

Of course, the best of both worlds is to find a guild that you are comfortable with, whose members have a similar world view to you. I love that on many servers, alliance guilds outraged at the bombing of Theramore took it upon themselves to go to Orgrimmar and bring Garrosh to justice. If only we could make a permanent change to the world.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Good and bad angels

Note: I normally try to keep to one voice, in this blog - my own voice, Dàchéng the mage. Sometimes, when discussing matters relevant to Earth, such as the state of the euro, I might use the voice of my avatar in Earth OnlineUsually it's clear from context who is 'me'.  In this piece, though, I find myself jumping between several voices like a schizophrenic. I leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out which voice is which.
Incredibly, it took me until this month to explore the turtle's back with my Pandaren, Paoquan. Sadly, I didn't find the Pandaren starting zone all that satisfying. Lack of immersion was the problem - all these wise old men telling Paoquan what a great fighter she is at level 5 or 10. It just reminds me of their insincerity. All these monks are relying on some dumb noob to fix their problems.

But the point I'm at now is one that I can't seem to progress beyond. Here's my dilemma. Paoquan has just learned that the turtle (Shen-zin Su) on whose back the Wandering Isle finds itself is in pain. The pain is coming from its starboard side, and there's a ship has crashed just there. Off to investigate, what's the first thing she meets? Taurens! They remind her of Yaungol. Oh, they are Yaungol! I, Dàchéng, know of course that the Pandaren are fighting Yaungol in Kun-Lai Summit, among other places. I'm not sure what Paoquan knows. Presumably she would have learnt about them in primary school. Anyway, the one thing Paoquan does know is that the turtle's pain is located here, and so are the Tauren. Now I find some idiot level 10 hermit helping them. Has he never heard of Yaungol? Doesn't he know Shen-zin Su's pain emanates from this area? Hasn't he put two and two together? I'm a bit more suspicious of these people than the hermit is. And the leader of these Yaungol Tauren, Korga Strongmane, wants me to help arm his compatriots. Well, why in the world would I want to do that? Strongmane tells me that I'm his new ally. Dream on, Tauren.

Actually, how come he can speak Pandaren? Where would he have learnt? Is this a deliberate attempt at infiltration, or is this just Blizzard's thin storyline creaking? Anyway, I can't target him and kill him.

Instead of helping the tauren or the mad hermit, I do what every adventurer's first instinct tells him to do. I head down to the crash site. There I see humans under attack from lizard men. Again, I can't attack the humans. I can't speak to them, either. They don't know Pandaren. Or perhaps they're too busy fighting for their lives. Old Wei-Palerage, the hermit, doesn't think it worth helping these people. He's too busy helping the Taurens. There are medical supplies on the ground, but for some reason, I can't pick them up. The paper-thin storyline is reminding me at every step along the way that it's just a game, not a world.

So now I can't advance. The on-rails nature of the game prevents me from progressing unless I help arm the Taurens. Every instinct in my body tells me that would be a grave mistake; so here I am trapped in the intersticial void between the world and the keyboard. I know I'll still be here next Samhain.

Edit: Paoquan did indeed stay there for another year.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Gear Plan revisited

I listed my gear plan, just over a week ago. I want to keep track of how that's going.

I started out unable to get into heroic dungeons, as my ilvl was too low. A few JP purchases fixed that, and I got some nice heroic drops, despite very little activity on my part over the last week.

I'd planned to make myself the 
Contender's Silk Cowl (ilvl 450).  But as it turned out, I got 
Fallout-Filtering Hood (ilvl 463) from a boss in heroic Gates of the Setting Sun, instead. I got a cheap common gem for the blue socket, but I had to go the whole hog on the meta, and buy the Fleet Primal Diamond, which cost more than I wanted to spend on a non-epic hood.

Skymage Circle (ilvl 450), bought from the Auction House, as planned.

I made the the 
Contender's Silk Amice (ilvl 450). I really should get a Crane Wing Inscription for it, as they're so cheap.

Contender's Silk Raiment  (ilvl 450) As I'm a tailor, I made this for myself immediately.
Still waiting to get to Honored with the Golden Lotus, to buy the pattern for
Robes of Creation (ilvl 476) .

Cloak of Ancient Curses (ilvl 458) was my first JP purchase, as planned.
Cloak of Snow Blossoms (ilvl 489) when I get the Valor Points.

I unaccountably still the Mindbender Cuffs (ilvl 434), and haven't yet made myself the 
Contender's Silk Cuffs (ilvl 450) . Other than that, I need to hope for random drops, and save my Valor Points for
Minh's Beaten Bracers (ilvl 489)

That heroic Gates of the Setting Sun dungeon run was great. As well as the Fallout-Filtering Hood, I also won 
Bomber's Precision Gloves (ilvl463). Still waiting on
Spelltwister's Gloves (ilvl 476) which I can craft for myself when I'm honored with the Golden Lotus (I'm not honoured by anybody yet!)

I made myself some
Contender's Silk Pants (ilvl 450). Otherwise
Leggings of the Poisoned Soul (ilvl 489) cost 2250VP. I've put that purchase on the long finger.

Everyone should easily get the ilvl 476 boots that are a guaranteed reward from your first Sha of Anger Kill. I have, anyway. Nothing more to get here right now.

Lionsfall Ring (ilvl 450), crafted by jewellers, was so cheap, I bought it.
The Horseman's Ring (ilvl 470)  dropped for me from the Headless Horseman. When I have the Valor Points,
Simple Harmonius Ring (ilvl 483) will be a good buy.

Coren Direbrew provided me with a
Mithril Stopwatch (ilvl 470) which is pretty good. The account-bound Archeology item
Quilen Statuette (ilvl 463) is also mine. I have not yet bought either the
Relic of Yu'lon (ilvl 476) made by scribes at the Darkmoon Faire, or
Relic of Chi Ji (ilvl 476) also made by scribes at the Darkmoon Faire.

I went out to track down the
Dissector's Staff of Mutation (ilvl 450) waiting to be found in the Dead Wastes. It turns out that that's quite a job. It's usually not there, spawning only rarely. Instead I got lucky and won the 
Staff of Trembling Will in a heroic Temple of the Jade Serpent run.
Scribes will want to make themselves the Inscribed Serpent Staff(ilvl 476).

Main Hand + Off hand:
For main hand, go into the world and if you're patient, you'll find
Blade of the poisoned Mind (ilvl 450) in the Dread Wastes. Meantime get yourself to elite with the Klaxxi, so you can buy:
Amber Saber of Klaxxi'vess (ilvl 463).
For off-hand, only this will do:
Inscribed Jade Fan (ilvl 476) made by scribes.
However, as I won a reasonable staff, I'll skip Main+Off until an ilvl 463 main drops for me.

[Edit: Gear Plan in 5.2]

Friday, 26 October 2012

Payback time

So the Horde thought they could get away with bombing Theramore back to the stone age? Well, let me tell you, they can't. Finally the Alliance has organized retaliation operations: we're dropping stink bombs on the Undercity. Yay!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Gear Plan

Following on from my last post about what to do after reaching level 90, here's my plan for my magely gear. I got the ilvl 476 boots from the Sha of anger, and an ilvl 470 trinket from Coren Direbrew. The rest of my gear is mostly ilvl 410-430. I'm ilvl 432 right now. I have about 3600 JPs to spend (roughly two items), and I'm neutral with everybody. The first two items I'm going to buy with my JPs are a cloak and a ring, which are my lowest ilvl gear at the moment, and moreover they are items that I can't craft replacements for (by the way, you don't need any rep to buy the JP gear, despite what wowhead and Tobold might tell you). I'm not including random drops that I'm hoping for, but not expecting.

Sunset Silk Cowl (ilvl 437) isn't too bad, and is a guaranteed quest reward. Or skip straight to
Contender's Silk Cowl (ilvl 450). Crafted by tailors, sold for ~500g.
After that, nothing much is guaranteed. Farm instances, world bosses and the auction house in hopes of a good drop, or save up your Valor Points until you can buy the Firecracker Corona (ilvl 489, costs 2250 VP).
I'm not an engineer, and so can't wear Lightwight Retinal Armor (ilvl 476)

I'm wearing the Pendant of Orbiss (ilvl 429) right now, a quest reward for helping creatures I probably shouldn't have helped.
Skymage Circle (ilvl 450) is made by jewelcrafters and worth buying for under 1000g

Get the Dreadspinner Amice (ilvl 450) or the Motherseed Mantle (ilvl 450) from the quest chain (10 quests) started by Deck Boss Arie in the Dread Wastes, or just buy/make the Contender's Silk Amice (ilvl 450)

Contender's Silk Raiment  (ilvl 450) As I'm a tailor, I can make this for myself immediately. They're also quite cheap at the Auction House (~500G). The Robes of Quiet Meditation (ilvl 458) aren't such an upgrade on this that I'm going to spend 2250JP on it.
On reaching revered with the Golden Lotus, there is an ilvl 463 quest reward, Burning Robes of the Golden Lotus, but I won't need it because I'll already have
Robes of Creation (ilvl 476) I need to be honoured with the Golden Lotus to buy the pattern, but I can buy the robe on the Auction House immediately (~20,000G). As I'm a tailor, I'll hold out until I can make my own.

Cloak of Ancient Curses (ilvl 458) is my first JP purchase.
Cloak of Snow Blossoms (ilvl 589) when I get the Valor Points.

I already have the Mindbender Cuffs (ilvl 434). Another starter would be the Dreadspinner Cuffs (ilvl 437) from the Dread Wastes.
Contender's Silk Cuffs (ilvl 450) are my best guaranteed upgrade right now. Other than that, I need to hope for random drops, and save my Valor Points for
Minh's Beaten Bracers (ilvl 489)

I was lucky enough to get Conflagrating Gloves (ilvl 450), so I can skip Contender's Silk Handraps and wait for
Spelltwister's Gloves (ilvl 476) which I can craft for myself when I'm honored with the Golden Lotus, or buy at auction.

I already have Deposers Leggings (ilvl 430).
Contender's Silk Pants (ilvl 450) are a cheap crafted upgrade. A better upgrade is
Leggings of Unfinished Conquest (ilvl 458) if you have the JPs to spare. Otherwise
Leggings of the Poisoned Soul (ilvl 489) cost 2250VP.

Everyone should easily get the ilvl 476 boots that are a guaranteed reward from your first Sha of Anger Kill. I have, anyway. Nothing more to get here right now.

Lionsfall Ring (ilvl 450), crafted by jewellers, is not a bad choice.
Etched Golden Loop (ilvl 458) may well be my first JP purchase. I'm also assuming that
The Horseman's Ring (ilvl 470) will be easily obtainable at the end of the month. Finally, when I have the Valor Points,
Simple Harmonius Ring (ilvl 483) will be a good buy.

Zen Alchemist Stone (ilvl 450) is a must for alchemists, but I'm not one. Luckily Coren Direbrew provided me with a
Mithril Stopwatch (ilvl 470) which is pretty good. The account-bound Archeology item
Quilen Statuette (ilvl 463) is also mine if I want it. But the best trinket to buy is the
Relic of Yu'lon (ilvl 476) made by scribes at the Darkmoon Faire, or
Relic of Chi Ji (ilvl 476) also made by scribes at the Darkmoon Faire.

Currently I'm carrying the staff Torch of Dawn (ilvl 429). I should go out right now and track down the
Dissector's Staff of Mutation (ilvl 450) waiting to be found in the Dead Wastes.
Scribes will want to make themselves the Inscribed Serpent Staff (ilvl 476). Otherwise it's a slog to get to exalted with the Klaxxi, to buy the
Amber Scythe of  Klaxxi'vess (ilvl 463). Better staves are very dependent on drops.

Main Hand + Off hand:
For main hand, go to into the world and find
Blade of the poisoned Mind (ilvl 450) in the Dread Wastes. Meantime get yourself to elite with the Klaxxi, so you can buy:
Amber Saber of Klaxxi'vess (ilvl 463).
For off-hand, only this will do:
Inscribed Jade Fan (ilvl 476) made by scribes.

On balance, if I were a scribe, I'd equip myself with the inscribed serpent staff. As I'm not, I'll buy the Inscribed Jade Fan, find the Blade of the Poisoned Mind, and work on getting the Amber Saber of Klaxxi'vess.

[Edit: later gear update at Gear Plan Revisited]

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Golden Lotus Notes

Questing in Pandaria was pretty good fun. But once you reach level 90, what's the next step? Gearing up, of course!

If you have not already done so, you must open up the gates to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. To do this, you must complete the quest chain that starts with "Temple of the White Tiger" in Kun-Lai Summit, where you meet Anduin Wrynn. If you haven't already got this quest, you can get it in Binan Village (in south eastern Kun-Lai Summit). Once you meet Anduin Wrynn there, complete "A Celestial Experience" at the Temple of the White Tiger, pick up "A Witness to History" and go south for the opening the Gate of the August Celestials into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.

At the gates (on the Kun-Lai Summit side), pick up the start of the Black Prince Wrathion questline "Stranger in a strange Land", if you don't already have it, and start on it as soon as you can.

By the way, while you are in Kun-Lai Summit, listen out for raids forming to kill the "Sha of Anger". Ask the raid leader for an invitation. When you kill the Sha of Anger for the very first time, loot his body and pick up the "Claw of Anger". You can turn this in at the Shado-Pan Garrison later for ilvl 476 boots. This is a forty-person raid, and nobody will care if you aren't well-geared.

Go into the Vale, picking up quests on the way. They'll direct you to the Shrine of Seven Stars (it's in the south-east). This is the most important city in Pandaria (and has portals to the old world). Pick up the flight-point from the flight master on the upper floor. The flight trainer (Cloudrunner Leng) is right next to the flight master: pay 2500 gold to him and learn "Wisdom of the Four Winds". Now you can use your flying mounts again!

Go to the ground floor and pick up all the "reputation" quests there. The most important reputation to work on initially is the Golden Lotus reputation, as it gates all the dailies for other factions' reputations.

If you haven't yet killed the Sha of Anger, go and do so now (see above), and once a week thereafter. His drops are seductive.

Fly over to the Shado-Pan Garrison in Townlong Steppes and pick up your new ilvl 476 boots.

A little further west is the Niuzao Temple, where you should find Commander Lo Ping. He sells ilvl 458 gear for Justice Points. Spend all your JPs here, now! You'll never get better use out of them later.

Now you should be geared for Heroic MoP dungeons. They require you to have ilvl 435 on average. If you're not there yet, you can either queue for normal MoP dungeons, for scenarios, or buy ilvl 450 PvP gear to get your ilvl up.

Once you get into heroics, you'll be picking up ilvl 463 gear, which will get you into LFR raids.

As you're building up rep with the various factions through dailies, you'll also be earning 5 Valor Points per daily. Note that you can't spend these until you have built up sufficient reputation with the faction to which the quartermaster belongs. Different gear requires rep with different factions, so check with Commander Lo Ping (who sells gear for all factions) to see what rep is most important for you, and work on that rep second (first rep you should work on is the Golden Lotus rep, to unlock rep dailies with the other factions).

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Blizzard recently mentioned they were making changes to how reputations work. I'd really like to see something more radical.

I suppose you know your reputation with the Order of the Cloud Serpent (I'm neutral, 606/3000), or the Zandalar Tribe (I'm exalted, 20/999). You can give me the exact figure. How about your reputation with your manager? Or your colleagues? It isn't so easy to say. You might be able to make a guess, but you have no way of identifying a precise number. You might be able to tell that certain actions on your part increased your reputation with them, but for other actions, you'll probably never know.

I wonder, in Azeroth, whether it is so important that faction reputation be visible. Perhaps if it was private information only known to Blizzard, it might be better. I know Blizzard designers are so thoroughly burnt out that they feel that all they're doing is building a maze for us lab rats, or a Skinner box, where pressing keys in a certain order gives us the instant reward of +141000XP, +400 reputation with the Golden Lotus. And perhaps they are. But wouldn't it be a more engaging game if you helped questgivers because you wanted to help them - you identified with their problems - not because you wanted the XP and rep gains?

The first quests in Kun-Lai summit were in Binan village, where the villagers were fighting the yaungol. The mayor asks me to do stuff for him. But I don't care for him, and I don't see why I would fight for him rather than for the yaungol. I do his bidding, anyway, for fear that I might be unable to progress an important storyline in the zone. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. How great it would be if I would be able to skip helping the villagers, but unknown to me, I lost standing with the villagers, with Loremaster Cho and Admiral Taylor (who I later discover to be in the village) and to have gained rep with the yaungol (I don't know why I was hated by them, anyway).

In real life, when we gain or lose reputation, we may not notice it; or we may notice a difference in the way a person talks to us, or smiles, or stops by. This is a more realistic way of signalling rep than 606/3000, and it would be great if such changes in behaviour occurred in the NPCs.

A digression about attunement
The first epic rep grind (or attunement, if you like) was for Onyxia. The storyline is at first intriguing and then enthralling. You're doing some quests for an average Joe questgiver. Quests like any other. You might have not even bothered to do them and moved on to another zone. But it turns out that unknown to you, he's testing you. He wants to see if you're competent and trustworthy and diligent. If you say you'll do it, but don't, then you've missed out on the greatest quest chain since Frodo's, and you don't even know what you missed. Isn't that how real reputation works?

Once he trusts you to do the job, he draws you into a story that leads to Bolvar Fordragon and the discovery of who is really running Blackrock Mountain, the daring rescue of a captured alliance marshal, the unmasking of a traitor, and at last the final confrontation in Onyxia's lair.

You were doing these things for the epic adventure of it, for the patriotic love of the Alliance, or simply to help your friends; and slowly your standing in the higher echelons of Stormwind rose, and you were more and more trusted. What a fabulous story to have taken part in, made all  the more fabulous by your acceptance into the ranks of greats like Bolvar Fordragon.

But this attunement was as a result of following a particular quest chain, and I know you wouldn't necessarily feel the same epic quality on a second or third alt. What if you could do different things to earn Bolvar's trust? Like the hearts in Guild Wars 2, wouldn't it be great if it wasn't only one quest chain that mattered, but that you could earn reputation by whatever means, and then, when Bolvar trusted you enough, you could (for instance) skip the "True Masters" questline or perhaps be directly offered the key to Onyxia's lair (the amulet)?

The Onyxia attunement series was greatest story in Azeroth. It was killed, in my opinion, mostly by player burn-out. It was only certain players who burned out. But they were the most influential: the developers themselves and vocal top raiding guilds. For both groups, the epic saga of the story paled through repetition, and dwindled to a chore. So now it is forbidden to everyone to do these quests. It would be great if such epic stories could be brought back, but with a way of skipping them once they're no longer epic to you.

Real reputation
We do not measure real reputation as a number. Of course all software is about manipulating numbers, but there is no need to show the internal workings of the fantasy world. It cheapens the world, and gamifies concepts that it should be encouraging, like chivalry. I mentioned in Tesh's article "Closed Fist, Open Hand" that players are more helpful in Tyria than in Azeroth. I don't believe that the players who helped me in Tyria did so because of a selfish cost-benefit calculation, they did it because it was the right thing to do. The honourable thing to do. To me, GW2 is a game that de-emphasizes numbers and emphasizes our common experience. A bond forms between players who don't even talk, based on mutual help. This is the basis of respect, honour, reputation.

By the way, my local primary school no longer encourages readathons (which is an event in which children are encouraged to read books to raise funds for worthy charities). They say that it leads to kids not reading unless there is a reward dangled before them. They stop reading for the love of reading. That sounds awfully like a lot of questing in WoW. We should be doing quests because we genuinely want to help the characters in our story, not because we want to earn something external to the quest (such as fat loot, XP, or rep points), the same way we want our kids to read books because they love the writing, not so they can earn gold stars or money for a charity.

Every now and then the Horde come to Stormwind, and there is an almighty fight. Or we go to Orgrimmar. Reputation and honour is earned there. Real reputation, and real honour, on both sides; not "reputation points" and "honor points".

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Wanderer

Tobold brings up an excellent subject: travel. Let me let you into a secret: I love and I hate travel portals in MMO games. I love them, because they're so convenient. I hate them because they shrink my world, and break it up. What to do about this dichotomy? Well, let's look at the kinds of MMORPG travel we commonly encounter.

  1. Slow dangerous travel through the game world. Running, walking, riding. Is there a more boring way of getting from A to B? You travel slowly, and the player must be present to guide you, and avoid threats along the way. Oh, but therein lies the fun. There can be threats and adventure along the way. I love what Guild Wars 2 has done for running: as you move from zone to zone, you are levelled down to that zone, so that you are never free from danger. You must always be alert. The same is true of PvP games (e.g. EVE, Darkfall, even WoW on a PvP realm), where you might at any moment encounter another player who wants to do you harm. Sadly, in many other games, you face no peril in crossing zones you out-level. Then this becomes the most boring method of travel ever, slow safe travel.
    All the same, you don't want to be spending half your game time on this sort of travel.
  2. Faster, safe travel. Flying above the threats of the game (I'm thinking of WoW flying here, not EVE flying). This is travel without danger, above the world, but where the player must still be present to guide the character. This can be fun, from time to time, for sight-seeing, like a drive down the coast, or through the mountains on a sunny day. As a means of transportation in a game world, it's not the most interesting. You still must be present to guide your craft. Of course, you may spot something on the ground and choose to land and find adventure. I wish WoW had not introduced flying. I'm really enjoying travelling through Pandaria on my ground mounts, risking death, and I'm not surprised that neither Rift nor GW2 sees any need for flying mounts. Safe travel is dull.
  3. Fast, safe automatic travel. Here I'm thinking of WoW's air taxi services. You travel safely and quickly between fixed locations and because it is automatic, players can take a break and stretch their legs. I like this style of travel, precisely because of the change in rhythm introduced. Games need pauses, times when you can let down your guard and let your mind stray to other things. Even including abandoning the game for the rest of the day.
    Of course, you may (on rare occasions) stay at your post, and watch the scenery if you want. Even though this is fast travel, it is not so fast that the world seems smaller because of it. Because it is safe travel, time dilates!
  4. Instant travel. Portals. Hearthstones. This is the most convenient form of travel, but of course, it makes the world feel disjointed and definitely smaller. Nothing to see here. I fell sleep in Whiterun, and woke up in Markath.
These modalities of travel can be found in lots of MMORPGs. What can be done to make them fit your world?

 Peril is the fundamental driver of most fantasy worlds. We adventure to experience peril and to triumph over it. Those heart-pounding, sweaty moments are the ones you remember. I already mentioned GW2's simple expedient of levelling you down to the zone you're travelling through. EVE, with no concept of levelling, takes the approach of making one part of the game universe safe and the other part dangerous, and only provides the first modality: slow dangerous travel (or slow safe travel)*. 

Eve's predecessor, Elite, actually made the whole game about slow dangerous travel. It's sauce was to add trade to travel. Its gameplay is all about trading. EVE has dipped deeply into the same sauce. Trade is a great reason to travel.

Most MMORPGs have gone in a different direction. Trading goods aren't carried by caravans or spaceships, and  hauling goods from A to B is not present in most games now. For instance in WoW, the postal service invisibly and efficiently transports all your goods from one character to another. The banks have your goods at all their branches. Guild Wars 2 has gone to the extreme of allowing immersion-breaking access to the auction house from wherever you happen to be. Nils had some interesting ideas about haulage in his series on travel.

Exploration and Discovery
Running around the world discovering what's out in the world is one humanity's primal joys. It's part of our nature.

A mechanic that I love in WoW is finding flight points. It doesn't make sense from an immersion point of view, of course: why do the taxi-service's gryphons only fly to the flight points I know about? Surely they must know them all? All the same, I don't care, because I love the mini-game of discovering the flight points. Rift and Guild Wars 2 avoid this problem by having me discover non-sentient portals (all the same, you wouldn't want to think too deeply about how the actual mechanics of travel from portal to portal works, and why I can't travel to portals I've never been to before).

This allows us the fun of discovery along with the convenience of fast/instant travel when there is no fun to be had from discovery.

Dungeon-finder tools often make exploration and discovery irrelevant. No discovery is required. This removes the idea of "world". How many people in Azeroth know where Dragon Soul is located? Many Cata-born people don't even know where Wyrmrest Temple is!


Using portals and taxis for travel removes the fun of peril and trade/haulage. How could we improve on that? How can we allow the use portals without encouraging them above all other forms of transport? GW2 has the idea of allowing mobs to capture your portals, preventing you from travelling to captured portals. It's an interesting idea, and fits well into the world simulation. Just as fitting, though, would be to allow you to travel to captured portals, and find yourself in the midst of a bunch of enemies! That would certainly make you think twice about using a portal, re-introduce peril, and let us consider whether a particular journey might be better made by other means.

A portal is powerful magic. Not the Guild Wars 2 type, of course, where they are at every turn and corner, more common than bus-stops in a city; and where using them breaks my immersion (instead of interacting with the  portal device, instead you must open your map!) But when portals are rarer, their value is perceived. People already pay mages for their portal service in Azeroth. How about increasing the cost of portals? When you must pay for your portal, you will again consider if it is worth using or finding other means of transport. Even better, what if you could own one of these portals, and charge people for its use? Now we can have either PvE or PvP emergent gameplay, as different factions vie for control of each portal.

What if the payment was in the form of a mechanism for powering the portal, like dilithium crystals in Star Trek? Maybe the only known source of these is in a galaxy, far, far away. Owning that source would be very important to you! Or perhaps, like high-end tailoring in WoW, you can only create a crystal at a particular place  and time, and in small quantities. There are many ways to make portal use rarer without discouraging their convenience.

What are your ideas?

* Of course, I know that travelling in EVE is never 100% safe. Same as on Earth.

worst quest text ever?

Parental Mastery

Destroy Torjar's Bane.
Rescue Hemet Nesingwary Jr.

If them tablets were correct, all ay got ta do is a small dance ritual and the big thing o' the deep will be summoned.

When it comes out, we'll get 'em and show me pop we are both true big game hunters like him. 

What's wrong with this quest? Well lots.
  • The quest text gives you no clue where you must go. It gives you a hint when it mentions what will be summoned, but that's all. It has been pretty hard - ever since Blizzard introduced  automatic quest tracking on maps - to actually complete new quests only by reading the quest text: i.e. only by following the questgiver's instructions. Now it seems Blizzard expect you to use the quest tracker on the map. This, of course, makes most "Find X" quests trivial. In this case, here's what the quest text tells you:
If them tablets were correct, all ay got ta do is a small dance ritual and the big thing o' the deep will be summoned. 
A little context is needed here, because you have to understand what the adventurer knows about them "tablets". The short answer is "Nothing." The longer answer is "Almost nothing". And the complete story can be discovered by reading the introduction to this quest  was Tortoise Mastery. Let's just check what that was about (you'll have to look it up on wowhead, because of course you can't read it in-game any longer - you just handed that quest in):
Granted, tortoises are not big game but they can be mean game. They also work as the perfect bait for bigger game!
Gotcher found some ol' tablets sayin' that the Torjari Pit is a sacrificin' site. The old empire used ta' feed unruly sorts to the waters as it were.
Well ah mean to see me what's down in that water. Gather up some fresh tortoise shells and meet me at the pit.
Let's see if ol' legends be true.
So, let's see then. Some guy called Gotcher (don't ask) found some tablets (don't ask). As a result, you have to collect tortoise shells (don't ask) and then meet young Nesingwary Jr (I'll call him Jack). Let's see. You get this quest at "Nesingwary's Safary". You look at your map, and head off in the direction of the Torjari Pit. When you get there, you find yourself among ruins populated by tortoises. You kill the innocent tortoises until you have the appropriate number of shells.
You're about to return to Nesingwary's safari camp, when you remember that Jack said he's meet you at the pit (that is, you remember, if you're doing the quest the same day as you got it). Sure enough, there he is among the ruins. You hand in the quest to him, and give him the tortoise shells (I still don't know what he wants them for), accept the next quest, and he disappears. This bit is very important, though you would never know beforehand. You have to watch what Jack does next. If you blink, or read the quest text, or look in your bags, or examine your quest log or scan for danger, you missed it. He disappears by jumping into the water, while you're still reading the quest text.
Water? Oh, yes. Apparently there's a pool of water behind him. You never saw it because you approached from Nesingwary's camp, and came to the ruins first (which are labelled Tortuja's pit on your map). In fact just a metre north of the ruins lies the pit proper.
Okay, so you didn't see where Jack went, you were busy reading the quest text. But that'll tell you where he went, right? Well, to repeat myself, here's what the quest text says:
If them tablets were correct, all ay got ta do is a small dance ritual and the big thing o' the deep will be summoned. 
What to make of that?
  • The map gives you no clue where you must go. Okay, so you realize the quest text is, let us say, confusing. Not unusual these days; Blizzard have a problem with storytelling. You have to use the map. You switch on quest tracking and look for the question mark. There it is, a big bright yellow question mark in the middle of the plains nearby. Off you trot, and find that there's a quest beast called Darkhide here. You reread the quest text for the tenth time. How to make Jack appear? Waiting around doesn't work, and is dangerous in this highly populated plain. You kill Darkhide. Nothing (unless you had a quest to kill him, in which case you can loot his head). Reread the text. Still nothing. The quest synopsis says "Destroy Torjar's Bane". You look around for such a creature or item. Nothing. You /dance. Nothing
Finally, you give in, and check wowhead. In a comment there, Stansdad has the answer. It's underground, as you may have guessed if you'd remembered and understood the quest text of the previous quest in the chain. You have to go down into the pit and swim into a cave. But, wait. That question mark should have been the grey-yellow hue of an indoor/underground quest, not the bright-yellow glow of an outdoor/same-level-as-me quest.

All's well that ends well, I suppose. But how could this text ever have become the full textual description for this quest:
If them tablets were correct, all ay got ta do is a small dance ritual and the big thing o' the deep will be summoned.
When it comes out, we'll get 'em and show me pop we are both true big game hunters like him.
Postscript: I know this is a storm in a teacup, but writing about it has proven quite cathartic!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Those Mudclaws don't want my gifts

Once you get to Half-hill in the Valley of the Four Winds, you'll find a thriving market there. At the heart of it is Gina Mudclaw. Talk to her, and you quickly find out that all about gift-giving from her. She can tell you all about it, including what gifts she likes herself.

What she doesn't tell you is what are the actual mechanics of gift giving? Do you try to trade with the recipient? Is there some sort of dialogue you must start? Do you target the recipient and then use (right click) the item? Is there some add-on interfering with it that you must disable? I tried all these ideas,and many more besides, to no avail. I finally figured it out. What Gina forgets to mention is that you are scum until you reach level 90. Before then, the Mudclaws don't want your gifts. After that, you can give them gifts as daily quests.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

I assist at an explosion

And it's 1, 2, 3, what are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop Jinyu Ut-Nam
And it's 5, 6, 7, open up the mantid gate
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
WHOOPEE we're all gonna die

It's just two weeks since the Fall of Theramore, when the horde dropped a mana bomb, a weapon of mass destruction, on the city. It killed everyone in it, man, woman and child. This was a world-changing event, wasn't it? I mean, the peace brokered by Thrall and Jaina Proudmoore was blown to pieces by this, along with the inhabitants of the largest Alliance city outside the capital cities. Rhonin, the leader of the Kirin Tor died protecting Jaina.

What did we do? We assisted Jaina in picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the mana bomb, ironically dropped by a little boy, juvenile goblin Sky Captain "Dashing" Dazrip. At least we killed him. We got some fireworks to celebrate, though what exactly we are celebrating is unclear.

What has been Varian Wrynn's response to this? He invaded Orgrimmar. Ah, no. I mean he invaded a peaceful newly-discovered island, after his son went missing, believed captured by the horde. Okay, I can understand a father wanting his son back, but I found him the same day I arrived. The teenager is safe. Since then, what have we been doing to defeat Hellscream and give justice to the innocent citizens of Theramore? We're running around killing the inhabitants of a country that doesn't belong to us and has done us no harm. Or we're playing farmers with the more docile of them, planting peas and killing vermin. Has the Alliance gone soft?

I like Pancakes nailed it with an excellent series: R.I.P Theramore, More Theramore Thoughts, Hopefully ... and especially Yawning. Her conclusion? Yes: the Alliance has gone soft since defeating the Lich King. Our response to every outrage since then has been to ignore it. It is easy to blame Blizzard for this, and with reason; but it's not just them. It's us. What has our response been to these outrages? What has your response been? Have you taken your comrades to Orgrimmar to bring Garrosh Hellscream to justice? When I mention it in Stormwind, I get predictable responses. "Who cares about Theramore, anyway?" Same as I got when Sylvanas wiped out Gilneas, and when the orcs invaded Astranaar.

The horde are, of course, complicit in Garrosh's genocide. They participated in the attack on Theramore. Their leaders have not repudiated him, and in fact Sylvanas, the leader of the undead, is no less genocidal than Garrosh, as her use of biological weapons showed in Gilneas. The tauren leader Baine Bloodhoof still backs Garrosh, the slayer of his father. And why has Lor'thremar Theron of the Sin'Dorei stayed silent? Vol'jin remains as invisible as ever. And what of you, horde adventurers? Where do your morals lead?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Hero of the Alliance

Spinks reckons that the the monkey guy in Horde Jade Forest special assault group is special, but the hero of the Alliance has to be Sully! Sully "the Pickle" McLeary (who is so good, he appears four times in the wowhead database).

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

WoW Wars

Like half the world, I was in Azeroth at the launch. And I had a blast, despite frozen zone-in screens, login servers that didn't log me in, and being in a gyrocopter where I couldn't see what I was shooting at because of the number of other gyrocopters on top of me! You just had to laugh.

But it drove home to me something that's been bothering me about WoW lately. It seems to be moving a little away from being a mediaeval fantasy world, and edging towards World War two. Parachutes. Gunships. Submarines. Gyrocopters. Bombs. The flying gunships first appeared during Wrath of the Lich King, though behaving like naval warships from the age of discovery.  Their weaponry seemed poor. Cannon. I can fly on  a magic carpet, or a dragon's back. That seems a better platform than a gunship; and wouldn't it be interesting if we could fight from the back of a mount? And I've got better weaponry, too! Arcane Blast!

Parachutes: During the fight with Deathwing, we parachute from the back of drakes into the pit wherein Yorsahj dwells. I don't need a parachute. I'm a slowfalling M.A.G.E. I'd like to play my class. Besides what's with the parachuting anyway? Can't you drakes just fly into the pit? My gryphon can.

Again, boarding a skyship and parachuting onto the back of Deathwing? No thanks, I can fly there on my magic carpet, and land on the target rather than throw myself at it.

And the final chapter in the Cataclysm: the M-bomb is dropped on Theramore.

The introduction to Mists of Pandaria sees Blizzard's developers again back to gunships, bombs, rockets, helicopters and parachutes. Eh, guys? Did you want to work on Call of Duty? These gimmicks are a bit of fun in moderation, but I'd like to adventure as a MAGE now, please. If I'd wanted to be a para or a marine, wouldn't I have rolled those classes? In another universe?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Last-minute preparations for Pandaria

Many of you will be racing to get to level 90. Then you already know about collecting 25 dailies to hand in tonight when your XP bar unlocks. Don't forget that you can actually hand in more than 25 quests: here's how I did it for the Cataclysm. I'm sure you can use the same idea for Pandaria.

Friday, 21 September 2012

More things I hate about GW2

Who am I kidding? I love it!

All except the Charr. I just can't like these soldier boys, trash-talking to big themselves up, trying to get their voices down into their boots, smiling with the corners of their mouths down when they make a joke (which is always about how great they trashed their enemy). They remind me of the marines in Starcraft.

Oh, and the way the voice actors pronounce 'golem' as 'gollum'.

But apart from that, I love it!

Random Pet and mount Macros

For ages I used a random pet macro in WoW, something like

/run CallCompanion("CRITTER", random(GetNumCompanions("CRITTER")));

I noticed that it stopped working in the latest release. After a bit of digging, I found this replacement:

/run local t,o=C_PetJournal.GetNumPets(false);local p=C_PetJournal.GetPetInfoByIndex(random(o),false);C_PetJournal.SummonPetByID(p);

Kudos go to GnowKnayme of US MAlganis for it.

For completeness, here's a random mount macro, as well:

/run if not IsMounted() then local m,t,f="mount",{{},{}} for i=1,GetNumCompanions(m) do tinsert(t[,select(6,GetCompanionInfo(m,i)))==0 and 1 or 2],i) end f=IsFlyableArea() and 2 or 1 CallCompanion(m,t[f][random(#t[f])]) else Dismount() end;

Kudos for this one go to Bõb of US Aerie Peak.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Black Lion Trading Company

ERROR: Invalid Authorization

That's the message that usually greets me when I open the trading tab. I found that exiting the game and re-entering can sometimes help.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

GW2 economy. Working as intended

I recently learnt that here in Ireland, 90% of chicken is imported. I knew we had a lot of imported chicken, for instance in imported finished goods such as pizzas, pies, soup, and so on. But 90%? The main costs in producing and selling chicken are 1. the cost of feed and 2. the cost of transport. Labour costs are minimal. So how could it be profitable to raise chickens elsewhere and then pay the extra transport cost to bring them to Ireland?

Talking about it in the canteen where I work, I learned why. The imported chicken is mainly the breast of the chicken. This is the part of the chicken most eaten here: fillets  for frying, or pre-cooked and sliced or crumbled, to be used cold in sandwiches or salads. Breast is best here in Ireland. All the same, we don't eat a lot of chicken.

In Thailand, chicken is big business. Thai people eat a lot of chicken of course, but Thailand exports chicken on a massive scale. Breast meat? Not top on the list of Thai favourites. Wings, legs, back are preferred. Same for a lot of Thailand's Asian customers.And they eat a lot of chicken. The brown meat for preference. White meat not so much. So that means there's a lot of chicken breast produced in Thailand that nobody wants. What can their producers do with it? Feed it to the cats, they think. No wait! Those folk in Ireland like breast, sell it to them. Any money we get from them is pure profit, because we were going to dump it, anyway.

So while it costs the Thai chicken producer the same as the Irish chicken producer to raise a chicken, the Thai producers already made their profit on the wings and legs and so on, and the breast is just waste, like the carcass. The cost of producing the chicken has already been accounted for in the price of the brown meat.

So Thai producers can sell breast meat in Ireland cheaply, because they don't need to include the cost of rearing the chicken in the cost of producing the breast. For them, that cost was distributed over the wings and legs. The Irish producer, though, is producing breast for Irish consumption, and must account for feed in the cost of producing breast. So Thai producers can afford the greater transport costs of getting the breast meat to Ireland.

Something similar happens in WoW, when milling herbs. You buy herbs in order to mill them into a certain pigment that is used for creating glyphs. Occasionally, another pigment is also produced as a by-product. This other pigment is essentially waste. Sure it can be used to produce inks used in off-hand items, but by and large, you factor the price of the herbs into the cost of the glyphs, not the cost of the off-hand items. If you sell any of these it's pure profit.

What's this got to do with GW2?

A lot of bloggers are concerned that the auction house in Guild Wars is flooded with items at such a low cost that they can't make a profit on them. There are thousands of crafters selling items at vendor price +1c. Less than the cost of production. Ravious thinks that "Players are already rewarded for gathering and crafting so throwing the [finished product]  away at a loss does not feel like one." This is the "I farmed it for free" argument. Ravious says that it doesn't seem like a loss to those sellers because the raw ingredients didn't cost any money to produce (never mind that they could be sold for more than the finished article). Azuriel worries that with such an oversupply of crafted goods on the market, "the entire concept of character progression breaks down".

I think both these bloggers have got the wrong end of the stick. The reason that there's an oversupply of trash finished goods on the market selling at below the cost of production is this: they are simply the leftover worthless waste product. The producers of these goods already got the profit they wanted, or they would never have produced them, in the first place. They got their profit, and then dumped the waste on the auction house. What was their profit? +1 crafting skillup. These goods were never made for sale, they were made to get the skillup. Anything else is pure win. If they had to throw those goods away, they still wouldn't care, because they already got what they wanted.

Did you ever look at the cost of spellthreads in Azeroth? Enchanted Spellthread is at an all time low right now, but it never was very high. It sells on average at around 10-20g, while its raw ingredients cost around 60g. Why does anyone make it? You already know the answer: for the skillups. It's on the levelling path for all prospective tailors. But even though this, and 90% of other tailoring patterns are worthless for generating gold, tailors can still make money. The not-so-secret secret to success is to research your markets. If you see that the market is saturated with below-cost enchanted spellthread, don't make more of it! Find something else that does make money. And that requires patient research. Finding the current market equilibrium price of items takes time, and you need to do that for a bunch of raw materials and a bunch of finished products in the hope of finding one that is profitable. It won't be one you'd expect; it won't be obvious. If it were, everyone would be doing it.When you do find it, tell no-one!

Okay, I'll tell you one, if you promise to tell nobody else. Sapphire Spellthread. You see? You'd never have guessed, there is apparently no logic in it. An item with weaker stats than Enchanted Spellthread, yet sells for ~200g (for a production cost of ~120g). This is why market research is so important. I've started doing mine in GW2, and so should you. You have to find something that most others won't. You will do this because you will spend the time on research while most others won't. You will abstain from wasting your time whining that the economy is broken, while most others won't.

By the way, I've addressed Azuriel's point, but only obliquely, so let me address it plainly. The oversupply of trash crafted goods will shrink when people can make no more skillup profit on them. Most of that trash will end up being vendored. As in all crafting, 90% of the recipes will never make you a monetary profit. Meantime, as is the case with every new MMO, and will soon be the case in Azeroth, spend the early days making a killing on raw ingredients at the expense of crafters, and don't bother crafting yourself until the ingredients drop in price.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

So it Begins

The Fall of Theramore scenario opened up last night. It's not difficult, but it is fun. First, as a scenario for three adventurers, the typical roles of tank, healer and DPS are absent. Once you get aggro on a mob, you better be able to handle it! In this respect it reminds me of the Faction Champions fight in the Trial of the Crusader raid, which was a great fight. But in the case of this scenario, the actual fighting was very straightforward and easy. WoW Insider have a well-written walk-though for Alliance members (death to the Horde), but you probably don't need it, as you get instructions on your screen for every stage of the action which seems to be the fashion now in MMORPGs. Very casual, indeed. Also, when you zone in, there's a movie plays, setting the scene. Don't skip it if you want to understand why you're there in the first place!

One thing to mention is a bug that I encountered which prevented us completing our first run: when we zoned in, one of our team-mates dropped out. The worgen priest and I didn't care. We were able to kill everything we met without the need for a third member. However, in a late stage of the scenario, we are asked to capture three horde standards. Uh-oh. There's only two of us. So I pick up two banners and the worgen priest picks up one. Then we finish off the remaining horde and wait for Jaina to finish defusing the bomb. She never does. We wait. We wander the scenario looking for things to kill. We wait. It becomes apparent that the scenario is bugged out. It seems this often happens if you take more than one banner each.

This scenario is short, easy and straightforward. It sets the tone for future scenarios, which I think Blizzard intend to be shorter and easier than dungeons. I suspect that this particular scenario won't be available in just over a week's time, when MoP is released. Carpe diem.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

GW2 first impressions

Loving it, so far! Like Nils often does, I may spend a lot of time covering the niggles that I don't like in Guild Wars 2, but overall, it's a great game!

 Here are two niggles.

1 They're really about lack of information. In the download screen, there's no obvious way to pause a download. On-screen you see the amount downloaded so far, the download speed and the number of files left to download, plus a progress bar at the bottom. Let's say that after a couple of hours of downloading, you get tired of waiting, and you decide you're going to play Rift for a bit. You want to pause the download. You can't see a pause button on the download screen. In frustration, you exit the download screen. Of course, you are curious, and want to check immediately if you've lost all your existing download or not, so you restart the download. Horror of horrors, the progress bar is back at 0%! The amount downloaded is also at 0. It is with relief that you notice that the number of files left to download still shows the same number you saw when you exited the download screen. So the upshot is, you pause by exiting, and you don't lose already-downloaded files.

 2 On registering, I had to supply a "Real Name" and a "Display Name", but it wasn't clear what each of those were going to be used for. I still don't know what "Real Name" is for, but I didn't give my actual real name in this field, I stuck in some junk. Display Name is seen quite a lot. It's kind of an account name. First, it is made unique by having some numbers appended to it. All the characters that you create are linked to that unique name, and if, for instance, you join a guild, guild members can see this account name beside your character name. Also, this display name is used on the forums.

 I chose the realm "Far Shiverpeaks" simply because it was the top English-speaking WvWvW European realm. Although it was labelled "High Population", I've not found too many other players around for comfort. Probably because I'm not with the first wave of players!

 Next, to character creation. I had a problem actually seeing the character models in the character creation screen. I could only see two of the professions, elementalist and warrior. For the others, I just saw the background, and the character was invisible or missing. I looked around on the internet for help, and I saw suggestions to re-install video drivers. I didn't need to do that, and if you're having the same problem, and can't see your characters, you should first try fiddling with the in-game video settings. To get to those from the character creation screen, press F11 to enter the options screen. Then I went into the graphics options (second tab down on the left) and changed the "Render Sampling" setting from "Native" to "Subsample" That fixed the problem for me. If it doesn't fix it for you, I suggest that you first record what your current settings are, and then change them one at a time until you get an improvement - that kind of trial and error was how I stumbled upon the fix for my particular setup, in the first place!

Anyway the character creation screen is fun and lets you personalize your character in many ways, but I won't bore you with the details, except to remind you that when you get to naming your character, you may use spaces.

I created two characters, a male Sylvari, and a female Norn.

I love the Sylvari race; what a great idea, to have a race of plants rather than animals. As well as a strong sylvan and elven theme, this race has strong Celtic overtones: Brittonic and Gaelic names are used for many placenames (for instance Caer Verdant, Ogham Wilds) and NPCs: the articifer trainer (for smithing magical items) is called Draiocht, the cooking trainer is Bhia). The voice acting is done by English actors.

The Norn are just like tall humans, with a Norse theme. I'd have loved if the Norn had been voiced by Scandinavian actors, but it was not to be - these characters all have American accents. I'm not sure why anyone would choose human as a race.

Adventuring in this world is fun - the starting zones are fun to explore, the storylines are interesting and the artwork is - well, painterly. It isn't trying for the sort of realism you get in Skyrim, if you know what I mean, but it has a style of its own that stays on the right side of cartoony, and never looks grimdark. Adventuring is fun in and of itself. It's more varied than the usual "kill 10 rats" questing, and it seems the developers have really tried to think of ways to engage us as adventurers. Gear and gold don't shower upon us, and I think I'm still (at level 7) wearing the gear I started with (with the addition of a pair of gloves and a wooden focus). I'm not adventuring for the rewards!

The dungeon instances I've been in so far I have soloed. I like the fact that even when I visited an instance that I'd outlevelled, I was automatically down-levelled so that it was a real challenge. Syncaine doesn't like this. But he's just grouching because he's been conditioned by other games to expect a reward for every activity he takes part in, rather than the activity itself being rewarding. Now, like Pavlov's dogs, he salivates in expectation of external reward, and is grumpy because he isn't given it.

The death penalty is unusual. When you are downed, you don't die immediately. Instead, you are left on the ground with a few minimal abilities and a small amount of health. At this point, you are almost dead, but if you manage to kill your opponent before you actually die, you rally, and are brought back from this downed state. However each time you are downed, you get a stacking debuff that leaves you with less health when you are next downed. Each point of debuff only lasts a minute, so it isn't a permanent loss. In addition, one piece of your armour is damaged and needs to be repaired. Together, these two penalties make you less blasé about getting killed than you would be in Azeroth.

Other niggles:
Zoning: In 2012, you would think you needn't sit through a loading screen when walking from one zone into the next.

Portals: Portals are used to teleport the adventurer from one location to another. What's interesting about the portals in Guild Wars 2 is that you don't teleport from one portal to another. You teleport instead from anywhere to a portal.That's a nice idea, but it comes at a cost: you can't interact with a portal directly. You can't touch a portal, you have no magical or technological item that your character uses to reach the portal. Instead, you must temporarily break out of character, and click on the portal on your map. Each time I do this, I'm reminded that I'm just playing a game, clicking buttons, rather than living in a fantasy world.

Instances: there's a lot of instancing while following storylines, and I wonder how much of it is really necessary. For instance, while following one storyline, I am called upon to go to the city and meet a certain character in the city's keep. I talk to her and she tells me to go somewhere else. Normal quest behaviour, you would think, but for some reason, my meeting with her in the keep is inside its own instance! What's that all about?

TL;DR: Loving it!

Friday, 14 September 2012

GW2's backlash is in full swing

Downloading Guild Wars 2 as we speak! After reading Syncaine whining and Azuriel moaning about how it's different to other MMOs, I can't wait to try it!