Return of the WAR

As I think the majority of readers here knows, I took a bit of a break from WAR and have recently returned to playing more regularly with my little Warrior Priest (who dies a LOT thanks to a sea of Choppas, and contrary to popular belief!). Was talking with Spinks this morning about just how many positive things WAR had going for it, and rather than writing about it on Nerf the Cat, I thought I’d list some of  them here.

Not waiting around for looting (bags, choices, etc)

We were discussing how one of the problems I have with raiding in other games is the stopping and starting for loot, whatever choice of loot distribution the raid uses, and that’s when we realised that WAR really doesn’t have this problem because of the loot bags in PQs, dungeons, oRvR, etc and the way the need/greed system works. It’s so much better to have loot selections on offer, and to also have stuff that’s directly relevant to your class. I don’t think I realised how much I like the system, because previously I’ve focused on just how crappy my rolls have been, or how unfair 1 gold bag per keep used to be, and stuff like that. In the end it allows for some seamless play where looting doesn’t get in the way of the experience. It’s certainly not perfect, but it fits in well with the frenetic pace of  Warhammer Online.

Variety

Ok, a lot of this is due to the Slayers/Choppas and server merges, but for whatever reason, the server feels pretty damn busy at the moment across all tiers. I hear of fortress and city stuff going on via guild chat (merged guild, so new faces to learn and get used to also), while someone also mentioned Tier 3 is very busy and I know for myself that Tier 1 and 2 are. The general number of people and the spread have highlighted the variety of things to do in WAR, and I’m omitting crafting because I don’t feel any urge to do it at all!

But with public quests, scenarios, normal questing, capital city quests – there’s a lot to do to get from A to B, levelwise. Spinks and I spent a good portion of today doing PQs while waiting for scenarios to pop in Tier 2, and once the afternoon kicked in, we barely had time to hand in the scenario quests before another one popped. It was this variety that appealed from the start, and it’s great to see it there and being shown off so nicely. I hope this continues, though I fear it’s inevitable that the action eventually move firmly to Tiers 3 & 4.

Scenarios

In and of themselves, scenarios are great fun. Though, it interesting that people seem to like whichever the latest one is. I know I really enjoyed Reikland Factory and the Twisting Tower, but maybe just because they were new and fresh and after a while the others can get a bit frustratingly samey. But, having said that, something that takes you out of the normal run of the game and transports you into a fun 15-minute mini-game is to be applauded. It’s a bit like the solo instances in LotRO, something I can do that adds to my experience but doesn’t take too long. Of course, scenarios are desperately dependent on other people signing up… so they have a bit of a downside. But overall, still loving them and the concept of them!

Casual Hardcore

One thing that I’m enjoying about my return to WAR in contrast to other games, is that everything is pretty fancy-free and unstressful. If I want to try and get a group together to do something, I can give it a go. If not, I can toddle around doing random quests via red blobs, and just exploring the world and the game. Dying means very little to me, it’s too quick and easy to die when the odds are against you. It might be a pain during a dungeon, but in every other situation, I just shrug, get up and get on with things. The game is quick to pick up and also to put down, so it can be treated as more of a pastime and less of a chore. Of course, if I cared enough about the endgame, the ward armour, completing all the content or collecting every title, I might not feel this way, but at the moment, it’s a perfect game for me to decide on a daily basis if I want to be casual or hardcore or a mix of the two.

Questing

The normal quests are often shrugged off as being a sideshow to the main attraction (the RvR, which we all know and mostly enjoy!). But actually, they’re not half bad at all. The red blobs might make questing fast and easy-ish (location-wise), but the areas have great flavour and interesting storylines to follow through, so that even when blasting through you get a good sense of them. I quite enjoy WAR questing as another fairly unstressy way of enjoying the game.

Anyway, a quick overview of things we were discussing today, and of my very basic feelings after not playing very seriously for a while. Feel free to add others, or disagree at will!

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Silly rituals

My Rune Priest hit 40 yesterday, finally. After being 39 for a couple of days and participating in open RvR instead of questing hard. I have yet to do a chapter 21 or 22 quest, so I have plenty to do if I ever feel like it, questwise. But I don’t. I was in a smallish warband capturing keeps back from Destruction and the xp/renown was constant if not huge. We even had some skirmishes which helped. We ended the morning session in Thunder Mountain – the map mostly blue and able to allow us the chance to eat. I was at 97% to 40. I spotted a red blob on the Thunder Mountain map.

“Hurrah”, say I – “I have a quest to hand in”. So off I hovver to go do that, and it nudges the xp bar up a little. Which is when one of my friends on Teamspeak suggests handing in the banner scrap quests in Altdorf. I port back to the city and head up to Karl Franz. After that is handed in I’m even closer to 40 so I head to the side room to speak to the Elf and Dwarf rulers. I look and think for a moment about what’s about to happen, and choose to speak to the Elf first –  not 40 yet. And then I turn to my Dwarf ruler, hand in a Greenskin banner scrap and get to 40. Yes, I decided what order to hand them in so the Dwarf would get me to 40. Silly? Perhaps.

In each MMO it’s been hard not to feel I should celebrate getting to the level cap. Usually I make sure I’m in a small group with people I want to share a celebratory moment with and we go pick a mob I want to kill. Can’t remember what it was in DAoC, except that it was extremely carefully planned. WoW, a little less so, and LotRO I think I did plan on doing it, but ended up in an instance or something.

So it was kind of nice to be presented with an opportunity to decide which NPC could get me to 40 purely by what order I handed in the quest.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d do something like that – really?

Anyway, first thing I then did was sort out tactics, masteries, and then went for a tasty lunch – followed by more open RvR later!

In WAR news (since I can’t post much today and everyone else is busy too), 1.05 will go live on the US servers today, but without the Ironbreaker or healer ‘nerfs’ or the sorc/BW DoT ‘buff’. Those career issues will stay in testing and become 1.06, which will also introduce the Knight of the Blazing Sun and the Black Guard to the Public Test Server for US players to enjoy.

[WoW] Storytelling in MMOs

NOTE: There’s some minor spoilers in here for the starting Death Knight questchain. So skip this post  if you don’t want to be spoiled.

There are three types of storytelling that go on in MMOs. The first and most traditional sort are the stories we tell about players. Ask anyone about their worst ever PUG or the most amusing mistell they’ve ever seen — we all have stories to tell. Our guilds have histories, our servers have ‘famous’ personalities, we have scandals and drama, and all the flotsam of human nature is there. Game design can definitely have a big effect on the way communities form and interact but for the main part, these are interactive stories that are completely player driven. They aren’t always particularly good or thematic stories but that’s real life for you. At least we can guarantee that most get better with retelling.

The second sort is the type of story that players tell on roleplaying servers, from time to time. These are stories about characters that are partly driven by the game lore but aren’t directly driven by developers. If you’ve ever thought about your character’s backstory and where s/he came from, you’ve done some of this.

(Cybering usually falls between the above two categories because two players writing smut to each other isn’t really roleplaying and has more to do with playing out real life fantasies. Which is basically harmless as long as it’s not inflicted on minors or anyone who isn’t interested.)

The last sort are quest based character storylines. You follow the quests and as you do so, there’s some kind of storyline that your character is experiencing. It may involve helping old ladies to find their lost chickens or saving the world from the Big Bad but the story is written into the game. Human beings enjoy stories, it’s how we are wired, but there are major difficulties with these kind of questlines. The main one is getting players to buy into it. Or even to actually read it at all.

And in Wrath, Blizzard have pretty much taken this to the next level in MMOs (in a good way). The starting Death Knight quests are remarkable in that as a player, you feel personally involved in the choice that your character is making without actually being given a choice. They’re remarkable in other ways too – Blizzard did a super job of showcasing everything they have learned about creating fun and memorable quests, there’s the bombing run, the disguise yourself as a peculiar object quest, the nuke vast amounts of enemy quest, the ‘dodge the elite mob’ quest, and so on. But the writers really outdid themselves with one specific part.

Now backtracking a bit, everyone who plays WoW knows that Death Knights begin their careers as loyal thralls of the Lich King. They also know that Death Knights will eventually be fighting the Lich King alongside the regular members of the Horde and Alliance. Which must mean that either they get a redemption storyline or else they are all really really bad spies (if they were good spies, they’d be disguised as Retribution Paladins – all you’d have to do is whine constantly about not wanting to heal and carry a big 2 hander, no one would ever know).

So the Death Knight starting quests present the player with a redemption quest line. The turning point is where you encounter a member of the same race who remembers you from your time before you became a Death Knight, when you were a hero … And they call you brother/sister and ask if you have the strength to resist. I don’t know anyone who has done that questline who didn’t respond emotionally to that piece of writing, and my hats are off to the Blizzard writers. It is probably the most important piece of quest text in the game because if you don’t buy into that, you can’t buy into the character at all, and they make it work.

I can’t overstate how difficult a thing it is that they pulled off with this. Any tabletop GM will tell you that there are some types of storyline that you just can’t run with some players. I’ve had players who hated storylines where they got captured by the enemy and had to escape (even though I thought it would make from an awesome Escape from Colditz type plot), I’ve had players who were offered a redemptive type storyline and refused it because they liked their character the way it was. Some people just like to feel in control and that they are making their own choices.

And letting people make their own meaningful story choices is something that’s been very hard to pull off in MMOs. So colour me utterly amazed at the writing in the Death Knight quests, because it feels as though a meaningful choice has been made and that the player was personally involved, even though it’s a static questline with no choices in it.

Mrs Spinks Goes to Northrend


Aside from all that, I’ve been very much enjoying questing with my warrior. This is basically what I bought the expansion for and it hasn’t disappointed me. It’s the Blizzard way to deliver a lot of basically competent quests with a few gems in each area. I’m just about done with Howling Fjord, have finished every quest I could find and run the first instance a couple of times with friends.

I really miss the red map blobs from Warhammer!!!

It is also that time in the cycle where there’s a lot of guild swapping going on, as people jockey around and decide how hardcore they want to play for the next few months. My semi-casual guild has lost a few people to more hardcore establishments. It’s inevitable that we likely will lose a few more – experience from TBC says that some people will hit 80 a few weeks ahead of the rest and if they get bored and frustrated while wanting to raid, they’re likely to find different raid groups. C’est la vie. It all happened before and no doubt it will all happen again.

Ultimate cassock devastation

Wotcha everyone,

I am beginning to wonder if my shiny Devastator Cassock is *actually* made of albatross feathers, and should be worn principally around the neck…  Let me explain…

I went on a Tier 3 Open RvR jolly a couple of weeks ago.  I was barely level 19, and went along expecting fun and frivolity whilst mooching a bit of renown for my poor, underappreciated Renown Rank.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I manage to win a purple bag after we’ve all given a Keep Lord a good drubbing.  At the same time as imagining myself with a “Gosh!” face on, you might also want to spare a moment to imagine the gnashing of teeth from all those people who felt they contributed a lot more than I did.

Fear not, teeth-gnashers.  Your revenge started the moment I took possession of that bag.  For inside it was the Devastator Cassock.  It’s got lovely stats.  It might even look good when worn, and dyed yellow.

It’s also Rank 27, and Renown Rank 26.

At the time, Hawley was Rank 19, and Renown Rank 16.

Now, I had been thinking of raising Hawley’s Renown Rank, but 10 levels seemed a bit…  daunting.  In a “grinding Renown” sort of way.  And, as anyone would, I’d like to be able to wear the item at the start of Rank 27, so I can get the most out of it.

The solution is simple, I’m sure.  Run scenarios.  It’s supposed to be the optimal way to level anyway, but the annoying thing is that I like variety.  It’s the Lemon Pepper of life, after all.  I enjoy doing quests.  The random nature of running about, following the bullet points to trez and xp (reading quests is for njubs, grandma!) is quite appealing.  I can switch my brain off and watch tv at the same time.  It’s relaxing.

But it only gives xp, not renown, and I need the renown far more than the xp.  In point of fact, it’s quite a novel situation; I have a levelling character that is running *away* from xp.

Open RvR isn’t so much of an option, seeing as most of the people I usually group with are now Tier 4.  And I’m too old, grumpy, and unsociable to go pugging for open RvR.  I get cranky having to watch my language around people who may well be a third of my age, and should be discovering such language for themselves (and probably thinking that they’re inventing swearing).

So scenarios it is.  Now, I generally enjoy scenarios.  They’re fun, they’re fast, and they’re frenetic.  They’re great to do whilst…  Yeah, whilst questing.  Being sat there twiddling my thumbs whilst waiting for the next scenario to pop is beginning to grate.  It’s taken a fun thing to be involved in, and turned it into a grind.

I hate feeling like I *have* to grind.  I play to have fun, and grinding isn’t fun.  I don’t want to come home from work and continue working (just without the prospect of real, filthy lucre).  I want to go and do things that take my mind *away* from the daily grind.

So I’m sat here, giggling.  The irony of it all overwhelms me.  I have a fantastic piece of kit, that I will probably never wear.  That would have done someone else far more use, as they would have happily ground their Renown Rank high enough, if it wasn’t already.

Heheh.  Heheh.  Heheheh.

Ah, don’t worry.  I’ll suck it up, and do more scenarios.  And stop being so whiny about it all.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Getting more stuff as you level

Me and Arbitrary are currently both rank 37, aka THE END IS IN SIGHT! Actually I feel as though the levelling pressure is off now. I have all the abilities I really wanted from my mastery specs and none of the baseline abilities that I will get between now and 40 are particularly exciting.

Or in other words, I know now how my character will play at maximum rank and I’m having fun with it. I’ll get more xp now regardless of what I do but it doesn’t seem all that urgent. I can play in Tier 4 with my friends (have been able to do this for ages), we’ve been to Bastion Stair, I’ve run around in Open RvR warbands, I pull my weight. Part of this is due to playing as a healer, and because healing spells are never resisted it has always been easy for a healer to contribute at a lower level than tanks or dps classes. But  also I have all my core spells now.

The alure of levelling as a mechanic is that players are slowly introduced to core abilities. It’s an easier learning curve than if you were presented with every ability at rank 1. Plus it’s an incentive. Level up some more and get cool new abilities! You get to feel as though you really worked for it (I’m not big on work ethic in games myself but it works for some people!) But on the flipside, if you have to wait until max rank to get important play-changing core abilities then you may be stuck with a character that plays very differently at endgame. You could spend all that time on a character to find that you hate it.

And even if not, forcing people to wait for important abilities affects game balance for levelling characters. They had to tweak Archmages in beta to give them their damage abilities earlier in rank because they were simply painful to level at all.

Xixaz-AP has a super post on the Vault discussing all sorts of game design issues, with suggestions. The one that caught my eye was the suggestion that characters should get all their new abilities for a Tier right at the start of that Tier. So you get all your Tier 2 abilities at rank 12, for example. He also has some great ideas about indirect rewards and bragging rights.

How would you feel about that? Do you like the idea of having kickass abilities available at max level as an incentive/ reward?

Expectations

Quick warning, this may be my first wall of text for a while and it’s very much based on my own personal journey…

I got very down about Tier 4 when I was new to it, my class kind of sucked at soloing from 31-33 (more than normal), and that was a big shock to the system. Plus, I don’t want to have to choose a levelling specline or have to choose gear for various purposes – I’m stubborn like that. And open RvR was quiet, Serpent’s Passage hurts my eyes after the 3rd consecutive run, etc etc. And I read around the place that others were having similar ‘fun’ problems. And then I had an enforced 5-day break. And I thought about it quite a lot, especially when chatting to my sisters and to a WoW gamer I spent some time with.

I got out of my funk. I love the game, I really do. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish open RvR was a bit more perky – but honestly, on our server there is open action in Tier 4 every day. It may not be at the perfect time for me, and some of it might mean taking empty keeps and waiting for defence and then scooting around to try and nudge control in various zones while many want a big fight… but it’s there. And that comforts me.

Then, at 33, my Rune Priest (not specced for Rune of Burning!) got better at soloing. Not great, but good enough for a primary healer. Which satisfies me there. In fact, my biggest concern is finding people to group up with to quest and do PQs (PQs are a bit pointless for influence rewards, but I see them as socialising with some free xp attached!). Even that is changing, I’m changing, I’m asking for help more. And trying to make myself more sociable and willing to help also. It’s a process, neither slow nor fast, but one that depends on mood.

So what really struck me about Warhammer Online while I was away? It’s a very different game to those I’m used to playing (DAoC, WoW, LotRO). And I asked myself the following:

  • How did I play my last MMO? (ie. level fast, solo/grouped, etc)
  • How many hours per day did I grind traits/influence/reputation/gear?
  • How many hours did I raid per week?
  • How many hours did I PvP?

WAR is a totally different kettle of fish for me, and for everyone. There’s a certain levelling ‘grind’ but I say it in inverted commas, cos it’s nothing like the grind I had in other games (I played WoW before they upped the lower level xp, I left before Burning Crusade). I have been known to play 12h straight in Dark Age of Camelot, whether in Caer Sidi or tree groups! All day is and has been pretty common for LotRO. And yet, when I try it in WAR I get a bit edgy and miserable.

Why, then? Well, the best I can do at describing it is that I’m finding WAR a completely different kettle of fish as an MMO. It’s the kind I like to dip in and out of, which is something I’ve never done before. And one of the reasons I’ve never had two MMOs at the same time before now. To me, MMO has always been a bit like a part-time job, occupying all hours to get all the things I want and need for my character while grouping up with friends to complete some fairly hefty challenges, or to just hang out and have some fun. Now we have WAR, where in a few hours I can take two or three keeps, or jump into scenarios while questing. For me, anyway, it’s not a game I want to spend 12h straight – and that’s the big difference.

Since coming back, and recognising this, I’ve been a much happier bunny. I log off when I’m tired or when I want to go watch TV or hang out with the cats or my husband. I play less, but I enjoy it more. I’ve reached rank 35 and renown rank 32 (well, I’m 95% there, and will be by the time this is published). I have titles for taking keeps and for restoring keeps. I am beginning to help people with their quests more and have recently seen Bastion Stair for the first time. All of this has been more fun than a couple of weeks ago, when I hit the Tier 4 doldrums.

I think the game still needs tweaks at the high levels, the influence rewards for PQs are lousy after ch16 and this has led to a desertion – one that makes questing where there are PQs quite tricky. Going back to help lower level characters has giving me a sense that my character is powerful and also, it’s more relaxing than trying to solo stuff. When these guys catch me up, we’ll all group and do ch18+ together. So I’m kind of fixing it myself, and the levelling curve is flattening all-round.

No solution to Serpent’s Passage Syndrome yet but I have faith Mythic will work something out. They’ve been very responsive and let’s face it, they know they have a problem with Tier 4 at the moment, you can’t fail to notice the threads and blog posts about it. But it’s not all down to the game company, we do have our own responsibility to do what’s fun for us.

For me, it’s to dip in and out of PvE, RvR, scenarios and dungeons and not to try and play WAR as if it’s LotRO/DAoC/WoW.

[And, as Syp said in a comment recently ‘great minds think alike’ – it would be remiss of me to leave out a link to Stylish Corpse whose words on the same topic I greatly enjoyed and who I totally agree with!]

It had to happen eventually

I got a quest to kill a pig. I feel strangely vindicated.

The pig must die

The pig must die