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World of Warcraft – Legion

It’s looking like Burning Crusade 2.0, but that was my favorite, so this is like crack to me.

WoW just announced its next expansion yesterday. I have a passing fondness for the game, which is to say I’ve been playing it for 10 years and will never get that time back. I quit “for good” a few months ago, but I think I will probably end up playing the new expansion. There’s a lot of different reasons why WoW’s particular brand of hype works on me, such as my love of the lore and general weakness to Skinnerian MMO tactics, but the main one is probably the fact that I’ve already invested so much time in the game. I also have a lot of real life friends that play the game, so when one of us relapses, the rest of us do as well.

World of Warcraft has lost a record-breaking number of subscribers in the past few months, and if you haven’t seen the figures, they went from 10 million players to around 5.6 million. The current expansion, Warlords of Draenor, hasn’t just been a disappointment, it’s been a disaster. Lack of content, boring and chore-like garrisons, poor characterization and plot, you can criticize WoD from almost every angle. It took 9 months of Dragon Soul to make me quit last time, but it only took about 2 months of trying to push Mythic raids in Blackrock Foundry. Let me give you a little context.

I have raided every tier of dungeon in Warcraft, with the exception of the current 6.2 content. I’ve been the main tank for our raids (protection paladin) for years, and while I’m certainly not the best, I always do well, both by my own standards and the standards of things like World of Logs and AskMrRobot. I love raiding, it’s what really makes Warcraft fun for me, but this last expansion actually proved too hard for my guild. Mythic raids really showed us who we were having to carry, and when it came right down to it, we couldn’t carry 10 out of the 20 players in our raid. Moreover, the people who were not skilled enough were longstanding members of our relatively casual guild, and we didn’t want to ask them to leave. So I quit, along with all my real life friends.

Quitting WoW gave me a lot of free time that I’m still not sure how to properly use. I started doing this blog again and learning video editing, and I’m happy to not have to raid on a nightly schedule. However, when I see the upcoming stuff like customizable artifact weapons for every class (Ashbringer for Paladin!), and the class halls, and generally just let myself get sucked into the hype, I want to play again. As I understand it, the lore of the new expansion has Illidan and Gul’dan, along with more Khadgar. The Burning Legion is finally attacking real Azeroth again, and it’s a big deal, obviously. All of this news makes me flounder around in indecision, because it sounds awesome.

I’m going to attempt something new on this blog to keep myself from re-subscribing to the eternal timesink that is WoW. I’m going to write out my journey from lowly noob in 2005 to jaded 2015 ex-raider. It details the saga of how I formed my long-standing raiding guild, made a lot of friends that I still do things with on a daily basis, and in general learned about leadership and the internet itself. If I can do it right, hopefully I can capture all the different eras of WoW’s experience, and share how I came to see the game, and why I love it and know I shouldn’t play it anymore. In the process, I hope to improve my own writing skill. Look forward to it!

Guild Wars 2 – Dungeons

So now that I’ve spent time talking about some things that Guild Wars 2 does well (although certainly not everything it does well), I think it would be appropriate to talk about the main, glaring flaw in the game – dungeons. Every MMO in the past decade has had some form of instanced group challenge, and every single one of them has done it better than Guild Wars 2.

The screenshots in this post will show your our futile attempts to complete this event. We were supposed to defend these “crystals”, although I strongly suspect they were really made of glass and paper.

In very general terms, a dungeon should be a fairly linear environment filled with obstacles, usually a mix of groups of weak normal monsters and intermittent bosses. There might be environmental hazards or timed goals, and the players should need to work as a team (if they don’t massively outlevel the dungeon). World of Warcraft and all its clones have this down to a fine art. You get in, you get your fill of plot and lore (or skip them), you murder all the things, and you get loot. It’s not the most elegant system, and one could argue that it isn’t fulfilling if there’s not enough challenge involved, but overall I think players would rather do something that is easy to moderately difficult, rather than bang their heads against a wall for say, 4 hours.

This is just the start, with only one burrow and a couple gravelings. My clones are pretty useless, even now.

Read the rest of this entry

Guild Wars 2

It’s fun. Guild Wars 2 is fun in a way that I have not seen from a game in a while. It is an entirely new experience for someone who is used to the “WoW” style of MMOs. I played World of Warcraft for 7 years, and Guild Wars 2 is still surprising me by how hard it tries to eschew that much-copied approach to online gaming. Let me tell you about some parts of the game that I find refreshing and enjoyable.

This is my main character, Hoffenbachager. I made him at the end of a long day of making extremely poor decisions. I like to be colorful, and the dye system obliges.

Characters creation is just one of the ways Guild Wars 2 tries to involve the player in something new and different. When you make a character, you make some decisions about his/her motivations in life, their background, and in what ways they are skilled. As you can see, I made a giant Norn character, and then gave him the role of Mesmer, which is a job that is mostly about making illusions and spewing magic made of pink butterflies. All of the classes are entertaining, and any race can be any class. If you’re looking to try several classes to see which one you like, it barely takes any time to learn the abilities you will be using the majority of the time. Abilities are linked to the weapon you use, and can be earned very quickly. I appreciate this attempt to make classes simple yet complex, and to allow new players a quick glimpse at the future abilities of a class.

This character is level 10, but she already knows all of her abilities on all of her weapons. The only things left to unlock are the abilities on the right bar, and those will be used far less often.

Exploration is a huge part of Guild Wars 2. As you may or may not be able to tell from my low-quality screenshots, this game is aggressively pretty and almost offensively scenic. In fact, one of the ways to gain experience is to go to places called “vistas” and use them to view the surrounding area. They are usually in high places, and often there is a small jumping puzzle to get to them. However, you don’t need a vista just to see things that look nice, because in this game, you can look almost anywhere and get that. Read the rest of this entry

I want to be the very best…

I guess I’m talking about Blizzard products a lot this week, but hey, it’s been a good week so far. Today Blizzard tried to implement the highly anticipated Pet Battle system (think Pokemon mini-game, but with WoW pets) into the World of Warcraft Mists of Pandaria Beta. I was hoping that I’d be able to come to you today with a good review of how it works and how much fun it is, but that goal is going to have to be put on hold.

Today, everything is broken. I’m serious. The servers have been crashing every few minutes even as I write this at 11:00 PM. Every time I even try to put out a pet, I get error messages all over. People are missing all of their pets, and you can’t battle anybody or any wild critters either.

So hopefully I’ll be able to get back to you on the Pokemon stuff later. I’m excited about it because it’s a huge world-spanning addition to the game, and I’ve always wanted something like this to be playable online. Honestly, it’s the most interesting addition to the MMO that I’ve seen in the past 7 years. I wasn’t even sure I was going to try the Mists of Pandaria expansion until I heard about it. You can call me a fan boy, but I still enjoy Pokemon every now and then, and I still like playing WoW. Hopefully this stuff will be worked out soon and I can take a look.

Where I’m coming from

I enjoyed writing up Wednesday’s post and thinking objectively about the subject of characters in game design. I still have a lot to say on that topic, and on the other aspects of storycraft, so I thought it would only be fair to share some games that I felt satisfied all the necessary requirements to make a really good game, and then some. Before I continue talking about characters, story, gameplay, and art design, you need to know where I’m coming from. Everyone does lists of Top 5, and while 5 is a very arbitrary number, I think it works for me too. If you want, I can always add a 6th later, and we can pretend that it’s a Pokemon team.

I want to preface this by noting how few old games are in the list. This is likely because of my continuous efforts to try to find and enjoy things that are new. I rarely go back and play old games now, but I did play a lot of the good ones when I was a child, so I don’t believe I am too biased. Anyways, let’s jump into this entirely self-serving list. If you don’t want to listen to me gush about a few really good games, you can skip today. I won’t be offended. Also, I never mail scorpions to people. Read the rest of this entry