Archive for April, 2012

What is your story, really?

April 30, 2012 Comments off

What makes a character stick with you – a story and character you can mold yourself, or an exciting adventure being told through that character? Or the illusion of either?

I have been playing SWTOR for three weeks now; it has been quite fun so far. One of the aspects of the game that I think has been working quite well is the evolving story of the character. My main character is Jorda, my Sith Sorceress. The reason for initially picking her as my focus was a mix of available powers and the initial story elements.

Her being a slave that in a way been given a chance to get a better position in life and be something more was an appealing story element, more so than a some of the other starter stories. It at least seemed to have a potential that it would be possible to take the story in a few different directions. That made it more interesting.

After playing though the story parts on Korriban, Drumond Kaas and Balmorra with Jorda, I do feel that there might not be that much choice in how the story is evolving from my part, but the game provides a real good illusion of choice and making it my story.

Initially Jorda was trying to act as to get some respect and also treat others with respect on Korriban – that resulted in a rather even mix of dark side and light side points. However, the rather harsh attitude of the acolyte training hardened her and she became more ruthless – something needed to get somewhere within the Sith empire. Which is probably also the route Bioware wants to portray here.

Certain events on Drumond Kaas (won’t spoil the details) has raised Jorda’s ambitions and hardened her even more and I have been steering her to become an even more ruthless and cunning bastard. Although I also think that this is perhaps also the main path set of by Bioware for the Sith Inquisitor. There are a few elements in place that seem to steer in the direction of deep red choices really. One of these is of course the companion, Khem Val. A shadow assassin from the past who obsesses about death and carnage and no mercy for the weak, or force users.

Jorda's eye colour changed as her path towards the dark side continued

I played the Sith Warrior starter story on Korriban with another character. While the missions and the story contained Sith ruthlessness, my impression is still that the warrior story might potentially go for a slightly different angle and perhaps not so deep red – do not know anything yet about the story beyond Korriban, but with Vette as a companion and that the character background comes from a different angle I suspect that the main story path there might be a bit more balanced in terms of dark vs light – I certainly felt that the story might go in a slightly different direction there.

I have also played through the starter story on Tython for the Jedi Consular and I must say that I don’t really like neither the Jedi nor the Sith as organisations go in interpreting how to relate to the Force – they are both different extremes in a way. Sith is a bit too much about letting strong emotions like fear and hatred guide you. The Jedi on the other seems to go more along the path of absence of emotions and seems to be a bit too much like a religious sect. But perhaps because of that they do provide a good base for making stories where charactes can either try to find a middle ground path, or head all the way towards either of the extremes.

While I am not sure there is a huge amount of choice in how much you can actually evolve the story, Bioware certainly provides a good illusion and excellent story-telling elements. There are other elements of the game that I am not too keen about, but the story releated pieces are quite enjoyable.

City of Heroes – 8 years old

April 27, 2012 1 comment

Tomorrow on April 28th is the 8th anniversary for City of Heroes. It is the MMO that is been my “home” for close to 6 years – one may try out different games from time to time, but the lure of virtual spandex always pulls you back into the game.

Or perhaps rather the lure of a great community, casual game play and relatively hassle-free team play. As a veteran it is not a game anymore that satisfies the explorer part in me – done a lot of the good stuff many times and the not so good stuff I do not care so much whether I have done it or not.

But there is certainly a charm in trying out new character concepts and ideas and just have a bit of fun together with fellow gamers. The conversion to a hybrid payment model with City of Heroes Freedom last year did stop the decline in players that was ongoing before and initially also boosted player numbers by a fair amount. I think it probably has stabilized now at a level perhaps slightly higher than before Freedom launch. I do not have any actual hard evidence to back that up, just my gut feeling.

I think for many people it is that “other” MMO which one may play for  a bit, to get some variation to the main MMOs one may be playing.

The general manager for Paragon Studios, Brian Clayton, posted a letter to the community writing about the past 8 years. There were few pieces of information that I thought was interesting, including

  • It has been 4.5 years since NCSoft bought Cryptic’s share of the game – the game has been under NCSoft/Paragon Studios flag longer than it has been under Cryptic flag – at least during its commercial lifetime.
  • 500K accounts have reached max level 50. That is more than throught it would be. I think at its peak the game had maybe 250K-300K subscribers, but as I recall a vast majority back then did not have any character above level 30. It is probably easier now than ever to reach max level – my most recent level 50 reached that point with about the same time effort as reaching the lower 30s a few years ago, perhaps even less.
  • 43 million characters created.  I have maybe 30 characters myself, although I have probably deleted 10-20 ones over the years also. What is the average and median here? It is an impressive number I think.

One thing that I like with the game as it is now, which Brian Clayton did not cover in his letter is that the overall storyline for the game is changing as well as the role of the player characters in that storyline. It is sometimes subtle (noticeable in dialogue of more recent story arcs)  and sometimes a bit less subtle (Statesman, Sister Psyche and Malaise all killed off). While one can play and enjoy the game without considering the lore and the stories, there is some pretty good stuff there if one puts in the effort to explore it.

Anyway, enough rambling for today – happy anniversary City of Heroes!


Categories: City of Heroes

Back to the future, in a place far far away

April 16, 2012 3 comments

After reading Yeebo’s developer appreciation post about BioWare and SWTOR, I decided I should try out the that game. I have to a large extent ignored most of the information and comments about the game in the past. Which means I have been fairly ignorant about details about the game, except that it is set in some past in the Star Wars universe and is supposedly with a storyline focus. Except for two sessions with Mass Effect, I have not really played any Bioware games before either.

So far I have created and played a bit with three different characters; a smuggler, a Sith Inquisitor and  an imperial agent. In hindsight it is perhaps obvious, but I did not realize that each side has classes that are sort of mirror images of classes of the other side, at least in the early levels. Thus I discovered that the abilities of the smuggler and the agent were pretty much the same, with the weapon type being a bit different.

However, the storylines for each played out quite differently and I quite enjoyed it so far I have played with all three of those. Between the smuggler and the agent though, the agent story definitely takes the top spot for me – it has lots good ingredients of a secret agent story it seems and got me more involved in the story the the smuggler one managed to. Besides that, I also liked the look of my agent (a Chiss).

One of the things that Yeebo mentioned in his post that made me want to try out the game was that in terms of fighting enemies the game was more along the lines of City of Heroes, where beating up a couple of (relatively weak) enemies at the same time is the norm, even at early levels. This was certainly true in my experience and quite good fun:)

While I enjoyed the cover mechnic and combat of the smuggler and agent, the most combat fun was definitely with the Sith inquisitor. Shooting off electricity and jumping on enemies and swinging a weapon hitting them was quite enjoyable. Combined with an good story about a former slave rising to glory this is my current favourite.

There are some annoyance factors with the combat through; one is that there is a global cooldown for the abilities used – a bit annoying when you are used to games without it. Not as annoying as it was in Rift though, my previous endeavour into a new MMO title. Might be able to stand it in this game though. Another annoyance fator was that you needed to stand still to perform the magi…ehhm force abilities and you got an error message if you were moving when you tried to use an ability. Again, used to games where this is handled a bit differently; if the devs have decided that your charecter must stand still to perform some ability, then root the character then and perform the ability – do not give just an error message. Maybe I will get used to that part as well.

At around level 10 the missions in the starter area and the storyline for the chosen class came to sort of an ending – with the story continuing offworld. This kind of presented a dilemma for me – play alts or continue the story for a specific character and which character then.  Right now I think I will perhaps do a bit of both and play some more classes at least for a few levels in the starter areas. But beyond that I will likely focus on a single character – feels more natural with the slightly more sophisticated story-telling compared to most other MMOs. Especially when you get to care about more abouyt the story and the involved characters, alternating too much might make story details harder to remember.

Getting off-starter-planet I also got to pick the advanced class and learned about the crew skills – some similarities to the STO duty officer system, but with less anonymous characters performing it. I also got to try out one of the story-oriented team missions, the Black Talon flashpoint. This was a quite fun experience and I enjoyed it very much! I found it quite refreshing that all members of the team could participate and follow the story. This is an area a lot of MMOs do not do particularly well, so it was nice to see an approach which allowe all team members to participate. I did not quite get what all the numbers and indicators meant at first during the conversations, but after some clarifications that got sorted out.

Moving on to Drumond Kaas I found the areas with jungles arond the city parts to be quite something that triggered my explorer itch a bit and it was fun just to get around and look around in the different areas.  The wildlife certainly made it more interesting. Dense enough that you are likely to see wildlife somewhere from pretty much anywhere you go, but not dense enough to just be considered containers of XP ready for slaughter.

Overall I have quite enjoyed my start in the game so far and it is good to have some variation to mainly play City of Heroes. Although if I keep liking it there is going to be some difficult decisions when it gets closer to release for The Secret World and Guild Wars 2. As much as I like what I see so far in SWTOR, TSW and GW2 are still the games I am looking forward to the most.

From reading some chat conversations in game, I might not be alone thinking that either.  There were people that had SWTOR as a stopgap until GW2 would be released. There also seem to have been a drop in activity across a number of the SWTOR servers and a few of the were considered “dead”. A few people had just re-rolled characters on the server I was playing on also, because there were more people on this server and they had given up on their old servers.

It is a rather nice problem though to possibly have too many potentially good options to choose from – the market has not been flooded with interesting MMO games in a few years now, althugh there has been some neat releases.

Gravitating into darkness

April 9, 2012 Comments off

It has been a bit over a month since Issue 22: Dark Incarnate was released; it has been quite enjoyable to play some of the new content that the issue provided.

Darkness Control sets

First of all, I started a new character, a Dark Control/Dark Assault dominator – two of the new powersets provided with the issue. My character, Zener Sente, started off as kind of a twin brother to Mr Bocor who is now also seeking power in the Rogue Isles.

Bocor and Zener chilling in Port Oakes

Being a crowd control archetype there is a fair amount of crowd control options in the dark control set – a wide cone fear, single and area-of-effect (AoE) holds, single tagrte and AoE immobilize powers, a point-blank-area-of-effect (PBAoE) stun and a single target confuse power. And two pet type powers – Haunt and Umbra Beast.

What has been nice here is that there has been a new set of animations and effects for the powers, giving it a slightly different feel than the old darkness powersets for the other archetypes. In particular the confuse power, Possess, has a quite suitable effect in which the confused enemy is turned into a dark character with glowing eyes – quite nice!

A possessed enemy

Haunt is a kind of neat power which you summon two dark ghosts to fight for a minute. They provide a bit of extra damage and fear and will taunt the enemy you send them towards, so I found them useful to send of to harder targets to draw some aggro and some extra damage taking down these enemies – works as a nice complement to the fear power.

The Umbra Beast is a big dog/wolf creature who can look a bit intimidating – the downside is though that it sounds more like a regular dog than some fearsome shadow beast. And also that  it is a quite noisy dog. It barks almost constantly out of fights and howls in fights. And if there are a couple of them in a team or league, the sounds will certainly annoy most people. It is a fairly ok pet as such, but one wonders if the developers did think things through when adding all these sounds (and re-using the sounds for the regular dogs). For myself I eventually ended up adding replacement sound files for the barking – which fortunately is fairly easy to do when you know the names the files need to have. So my dog…ehh Umbra Beast… is more silent now.

Umbra Beasts require a regular diet of at least one Rikti Monkey per day

Despite this I quite like the powerset, although I generally like most control powersets. In combination with the Dark Assault powerset which has some good damage power and is thematically suitable I like the overall result – not perhaps the most awesome control powerset on the dominator side, but fun to play overall.

Haunts and Umbra Beast

While I started off with the power colours as very dark and close to the original colours I eventually settled for a more purple colour set – pets were just as intimidating-looking and perhaps even more so in darker areas, plus that the control powers ended up being much more visible.

Right now my dominator here reached level 50 about a week ago and currently now also has unlocked the five available inarnate slots. This makes him my 19th character at level 50, my 9th dominator at max level and my 6th character to unlock all available incarnate slots. Did I tell you I am an altoholic? 🙂

Teen level arcs

With Issue 22 there was also two new story arcs for each side added as well, 2 in Cap au Diable and 2 in Steel Canyon, available from level 15. I will not tell too much about the details, because that would spoil some of the fun with them. But the shift towards putting the player character more in the centre as the lead character rather than an errand boy/girl is noticeable. It is also noticeable that the dialogue options allow for the character not just to be a pure villain or hero, but possibly something in between as well. This fits well in with the alignment system that could be unlocked at level 20.

They also provide some options for meeting a few of the superhero/villain characters that are not in the top league and which also will be encountered during these alignment missions. Plus also some slightly new/different settings and opportunity for large group combat even if you play the missions solo. All in all quite good missions.

Signature Story Arc 1 – Who will Die

Alhough the Signature Story Arc 1 (SSA1), Who Will Die, is not really part of issue 22 and has been running for a number of months now the last episode was released recently. The 7th and last episode is a bit longer then the previous ones and provides a quite good conclusion to a quite good story, which moves and changes the storyline a bit for the City of Heroes universe. Two heroes from the Freedom Phalanx supergroup were killed during this story and a member of the Vindicators.

While the story itself is quite good, I do not really think it would be worth the money that it is charged to non-VIP players, at 400 paragon points per episode.  The rewards from completing an episode is definitely better than an average story arc and it is repeatable, but some of the reward options are only available to VIP or VIP Incarnate characters. And VIPs get these story arcs anyway as part of their subscription fee. I think the price tag on these story arcs may be more of a way to show how much stuff VIPs get in their subscription fee rather than that they expect non-VIPs to buy them.

If they put the whole 7 episode package on sale at some point in the future at a reduced price it might be worth it though.

Dark Astoria revamp and missions

Dark Astoria has been an intriguing but very underused zone in the game for a long time. With Issue 22 it was now revamped into a high level zone (level 50-54 enemies) with missions and story arcs aimed to provide another option for Incarnate advancement. Thus Incarnate characters will gain the two types of Incarnate XP that is available and get incarnate drops (threads) as well as incarnate component rewards from completing story arcs.

One does not have to have an incarnate character to enter the zone though or play in the missions – but contacts will not give missions unless the character is an incarnate (level 50 + VIP) character. So non-50 non-VIP characters need to team up with someone who has this access to play through the mission content.

The mission content is really good and perhaps more than in any other story arcs your own character is the lead hero/villain in this setting. Thus you will regularly fight with or against a number of signature characters in the game as well as encounter some new and more powerful enemies in existing enemy groups. In a number of places there are options to include or exclude other signature characters to be part of your team – exclude them for more challenging fights. That is a nice approach for a bit of level adjustment as well as story-oriented support in one package.

So far I have only played through all of the story arcs here on the villain side, I would assume that the content is slightly different but still similar on the hero side. At least the first story arc is pretty much identical on both sides once you enter Dark Astoria, save some differences in dialog text.

In the story arcs you will investigate what has been happening in Dark Astoria, what and why some of the creatures found there now have appeared and eventually fight a god of Death, Mot. Definitely among the best content that is available in the game, I think.

New controllers

One thing that I love about City of Heroes and its combat is the amazing amount of crowd control options available – confuse, fear, hold, immobilize, intangible, knockup/knockback/knockdown, repel, sleep and stun/disorient all have their uses and can provide provide a quite fun pallette to work with if you are a crowd control fan. Combine that with various neat debuffs and you can have a character that can manipulate and toss around enemy groups at will.

Not all powersets available have all that awesome though. Gravity control has been a powerset that has a mix of nice and somewhat broken powers. As part of Issue 22 there was a revamp of the gravity control powerset, which provides some changes. This included the Dimension Shift power (AoE intangible) as well as the Propel power (throw stuff at enemies, telekinesis style) and some other changes. The old Dimension Shift was annoying at best and Propel a power which had too long animation time to make really useful and good.

Dimension Shift is still there, but is now a power which can be turned on and off at will and there is no doubt for anyone nearby that enemies caught in it have been phased out (they canot hit you, you cannot hit them). It also puts on a very strong immobilize (magnitude 10) to hold enemies in place.

Propel have been adjusted to get its animation time reduced significantly, making it a more useful damage power – especially if you are a Controller. A new mechanic called Impact has also been introduced, which adds additional damage when Lift and Propel powers are used against a target that is held by Gravity Distortion (hold power). A few other tweaks are also in place, but these are the things that one notices early.

I have currently started a new Gravity/Dark controller, Vortexer, who is in the mid 20s currently and is really fun to play. Gravity control can be a quite fun powerset to play with all the tossing around with enemies and knocking them around by telekinetic force and I quite enjoy it.

Together with this controller I have also recently created two other controllers, one mind control/time controller and a plant control/trick arrow controller. Both of these are perhaps a bit more team oriented – lots of options for team support, but not much to actually cause damage to an enemy. Still, I do enjoy all of them but the last two can be a bit slow to go through early levels unless you are on a team. But I think these suit me better in the long run than the pure damage/melee characters, which I get bored with easily.

Categories: City of Heroes

The Secret World preorder time

April 3, 2012 1 comment

Funcom has announced that pre-order is available for The Secret World.  Since this game is on the top 2 of anticipated games for me, I pre-ordered pretty much directly when I saw it. There is a basic game package, with a number of additional options you can add to that.

I have become a bit more sceptic over the years over the value of getting a number of these extras right from the start, without any practical hands-on experience with the game. I really want this to be excellent, but I am not buying more than the minimal required until I know better what I may want and need and if I actaully end up liking the game.

So just the basic package for me. I picked Paypal as payment option, but the registration web page did not bring me to Paypal and neither did the button on the confirmation page work for me. But the confirmation email from Funcom provided a link to the account page and from there I could complete the Paypal payment.

The pre-order provides access to beta weekends, which seem to start on May 11th. Game client was not available yet for download.

Funcom has created a pre-order trailer, which looks pretty good. Not entirely new though, since it contains bits from older trailers. I guess they are primarily aiming for existing MMO players with this trailer, since some of the text would not make much sense for a non-MMO player.

Categories: The Secret World