New PC - Alienware (Me selling out)

I recently decided to go for a new PC, as my old one was, well, not exactly lagging behind, but I wanted to be able to play on 2560x1600 with higher details even on new games, which I wasn’t too sure I’d be able to achieve simply by swapping some parts, so a new PC it was!

Now, I’ve been building both my own and other peoples PCs for the last decade, and vowed many a time to completely avoid all the pre-built systems out there, but then I started doing some minor price comparisons and wanted to see what the hype was all about regarding Alienware.

With a reputation of being extremely overpriced, I configured the top model and saw it was definitely true there, and went on to check out what parts I’d need for my new PC, but stopped at the point where watercooling for the CPU became a priority. Not feeling too brave in that department, I decided once again to look up the pre-built options.

I decided to start with the smallest model from Alienware instead, as it hit me that the initial option really wasn’t too expensive given its features and components – and a price comparison showed that it was roughly the same as buying the same components!

At that point I was fairly sold on the idea, and decided to add custom upgrades to the system for the part which I couldn’t easily replace myself – namely the CPU and its watercooling system – and the price was so close to the component price that it was well worth it to actually put in an order.

I did however want this PC to be fairly decent, and after doing a quick check with customer service to ensure that the warranty wouldn’t be broken by me messing around in the case I placed the order, and did a side-order of RAM, an Intel SSD and the new ATI 5970 graphics card. The interesting part here is that actually upgrading these parts in the configuration of the PC put almost 50% more on the price than it should have if you were thinking component cost, and I’m fairly sure this is where the overpriced and profit margins from Alienware kicks in – as people who usually want to buy a “top of the line” PC tends to just go and max out everything, then complain as it’s horribly overpriced.

When the PC arrived, I have to admit it was quite beautiful! Not really thinking so much of the appearance on the outside, but the careful thought and deliberation that had gone on in creating the inside of the case, everything was so easily accessible and doing the upgrades was so simple I’m quite convinced I’m never going to go back to custom building unless I actually have the exact same flexibility this case offers! On a side note here, the size of the 5970 is massive, and you really need some added space next to the motherboard inside the case to actually fit it at all.

All in all, I’m pleasantly surprised with my experience, I feel that I’ve gotten great value, and the only negative I can think of is the time it took to actually assemble and ship the system, I’m giving them the benefit of “We had a christmas backlog”-doubt though, and figure it was just a timing issue.

If you’re borderline when it comes to the custom vs pre-built and don’t have a local retailer, I would recommend just trying to check the basic specs for the smallest Alienware setup available, and then do a nice price comparison there, then add on what you really want.

Current PC Specs: i7 960 3.2ghz, 12gb RAM, ATI 5970, Intel X-25 Gen2 SSD

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Star Trek Online - Overview, Tips and Review-ish Info

Now that the NDA of the Star Trek Online has been lifted, I’ve had a fair few people ask me some questions about it, and decided it would probably be good to summarize some hints and tips, as well as giving an overview of the general mechanics of the game. The tips and suggestions will include mainly the low level stuff, as you should be able to make your own conclusions after playing for a while.

A slight disclaimer should note that the views expressed here are my own opinions based on roaming around in beta, and only that, opinions. Also, this will be a lot of text, the TL;DR version should be at the bottom. :)

First off, the general setting is – as the name implies – the Star Trek Universe, where you’re roaming around captaining your starship, or leading your away team to boldly go wherever you want! Undertaking missions involving combat and/or exploration for the benefit of the Federation or the Klingon Empire.

The actual game is divided into two different sections, ground and space. When you’re on ground missions, you run around as your avatar, with a squad of 4 others, either your NPC officers or other players. While the space section has you captaining a spaceship roaming around in space.

Space Combat

Probably the most anticipated and fun part of the game is the space part of the game. A typical fight would involve maneuvering around trying to destroy the other ship with phasers and torpedos, making sure to have them in your firing arcs, while at the same time trying to deflect as much damage as possible into your shield, balancing out the shield to the area where you are receiving damage.

The shield mechanic is based on there being 4 different sections on your ship each covered by a portion of your total shield energy, then as attacks come in, your shield will absorb a fair amount of the damage, depleting the energy in that section. At that point you should use skills to channel energy from the other sections over to the damaged one, or simply try to maneuver away so the damaged section is no longer facing the enemy.

The weapons mechanic consists of there being front and rear weapon slots, with each weapon having a different firing arc. The main types of weapons are energy weapons, torpedoes and to a certain extent mines – the energy weapons are usually quick to fire and are relatively decent at sorting out shield, while the torpedoes generally have a longer reload and have extreme amounts of damage to hull when the shield is down.

The choice of weapons determine how you’re going to maneuver around in combat, typically the smaller arc gives the most damage, while the 240degree arc does medium damage, and the 360 arc does less damage. As an example, if you were extremely forward focused, you could put cannons (45degree) and torpedoes (90degree) in your forward slots, and turrets (360degree) in rear slots. If you go with such a setup, you need to adjust your playstyle to ensure that you almost always face the target, while a more balanced setup with 240degree phasers front and rear would have a more flexible setup, being able to deal damage while performing evasive actions.

As an example, the standard setup is forward and rear 240degree phaser beam weapons, and front torpedoes in the second weaponslot. I’d keep the phasers on autofire and try to broadside the other ship, while switching sides or adjusting shield power to compensate for their damage output, until their shields are failing, at which point I try to get them in the frontal view to launch torpedoes for the massive hull damage.

In addition to this, you also have control over where you want to put your power. There are 4 systems in need of power, namely weapons, shields, engines and auxiliary. Increasing power to weapons or auxiliary will increase damage from energy weapons or effectiveness of various utility skills respectively, while increasing power to shields will improve shield regen rates, and engines will increase movement speed. In a typical combat situation, I found it generally preferable to set full power to weapons, remainder to shields and minimal to engines/auxiliary due to the ships usually not being strong enough to break through my shields before I could destroy them.

Another tip when it comes to surviving against stronger ships especially, is that you should quickly identify if they have a ton of torpedoes and/or cannons at their forward arc, typically escorts will have these, if so – try to avoid being in their really strong arc, as that could easily the difference between a destroyed ship and taking minimal damage.

Furthermore, the outcome of battle will be influenced by the use of skills, these are coming either from your character, your ship(type) or your bridge officers.

Bridge Officers and Ships

Bridge Officers are NPCs you recruit or gain as rewards throughout the game with their own special abilities. As you progress in the game, you can also train and promote your own bridge officers, advancing them in rank just like yourself, with the slight exception of them needing to stay at least one rank below you. For each rank they gain, they gain access to another skill.

The different ships available have a set amount of Bridge Officers you can use at the same time, and different grades as well. As an example, the first science vessel you can access (when you reach rank Lt. Commander) has room for two science, one tactical and one engineering officer, however only one of those two science officers can be ranked as Lieutenant (Rank 1, Ensign being Rank 0), while the other has to be ranked as an Ensign still. As a result of this, only one of those officers can use their rank 1 skill, while the other one will have this disabled.

The different ships you can use are divided into three types, Science Vessels (Science Bridge Officers), Cruisers (Engineering Bridge Officers) and Escorts (Tactical Bridge Officers). Cryptic has stated that they’re aiming to fill three different roles in combat with these, and want the Cruisers to fulfill a tanking role, Escorts to perform a damage role and Science Vessels to represent the utility. The main attractions of the different ships are that Escorts are able to mount cannons, are agile and have an extra forward weapon slot, cruisers are slow, have an extra weapon slot and have a ton of hitpoints, while science vessels possess more shields than the rest and have the ability to target subsections of the enemy vessels.

As far as endgame goes, the current final tier ships will allow you to have one Commander (Rank 3) and one Lt. Commander (Rank 2) of the main ship career active, while having a Lieutenant and Ensign of a second career active, and a Lieutenant of a third career active – which career the latter two relate to will depend on which subtype you choose for the final tier ship.

What does this mean? This should be one of the main things to consider when deciding on a ship class. In addition to the special effects for its given class, you will only have Lt Commander and Commander Bridge Officer skills available for the given career for your shiptype available.

Careers and Progression

As mentioned before, there are three different classes or careers in the game, namely Tactical, Science and Engineering. The real impact these careers have on the game is narrowed down to what kind of ground abilities (kits) they can use/equip, and to a certain degree what kind of special skills they receive for use in space.

I’d like to just note that there are people thinking that a certain career means you will be locked to a certain type of ship, which isn’t true at all. As it stands, certain career abilities will favor some ships more than others, but you could also argue that those abilities will complement the other ship classes as well, so it’s really up to personal choice. Note that I’m not 100% sure what the abilities for the different player careers are, as I couldn’t find a list of them, and they seem to appear at random levels.

The progression is a simple leveling system, sort of tucked into the Starfleet ranks. From Lieutenant to Admiral basically involves 50 levels, with a rank up and new ship possibilities every 10 levels.

Each time you complete a mission or defeat some of the higher ranked enemies in the game, you receive an amount of skillpoints. These skillpoints can be used at any time to increase your skills in the skill list. A note here should be that all of the skills are either ground or space skills, and you don’t gain any powers directly from the skills you select, in fact, most of the advanced skills are simply enhancing other skills used by yourself or your bridge officers.

Currency and Missions

The currency in the game is divided into two. First you have the “replicator credit” which you get from “selling” items you find. This will let you “buy” various items from most merchants ingame. Secondly you have merit points, which are awarded at the end of missions and could be seen as faction credits to be spent on various faction perks from Starfleet. In addition to these two, you have a fair amount of commodities you can either buy or trade for, some of which are required to complete certain missions. As an example, to progress in a quest at Deep Space Nine, you need 10 Entertainment Provisions, which are traded for by a nearby merchant, who requires something like 6 Provisions to trade for one Entertainment Provision. The regular provisions are replicated and sold at Starfleet commodity brokers, so you would need to first buy 60 of those provisions, trade them with the shady merchant, and then turn them in to the person who has the quest.

In addition to currency, Cryptic declared that crafting was in-game, which is true according to their definition I suppose. As you travel through the universe, you come across anomalies, which upon examination rewards you with some sort of artifact or other item. Gathering these and giving them, along with an item to a merchant will reward you with an upgraded version of the item, I can’t say it’s quite SWG-crafting, but then again, nothing is. :)

The various missions you can perform are relatively diverse at first, ranging from exploration quests, kill quests, and fairly mixed content. Furthermore, all missions and encounters are scaled to your group size, so you can group up and still receive challenging content, as the game will just spawn more ships or harder enemies for you.

In addition to these you have missions in the form of Fleet Actions which are similar to public quests in Warhammer Online, where a ton of people group up and perform a shared goal. These also seem to mix a bit of space and ground as well, establishing groups as you beam down to perform ground combat.

Ground Combat

Ground combat is exactly what it sounds like, where you run around like most other mmos today, except you have a relatively limited amount of skills on your character. The mechanics are slightly different than what’s “standard” compared to the other mmos out there is that you have an expose/set-up-for-damage system and flanking damage. You want to initially perform an expose attack to render the target immobilized and open for massive damage, almost similar to dropping shields of a starship, and follow up with a damage attack to deal added damage. Furthermore, attacking from the side or the back will deal extra damage, so positioning is key to do the tactical approaches here.

Now, the reason I don’t write too much about ground combat is that I really don’t have too much positive to say about it, I dislike the controls, combat feels very unnatural and there’s an insane amount of latency compared to space combat – I assume the latter one will be fixed soon though. However, after the first few ground combat missions, I just sat there with a sour taste in my mouth whenever I saw these appear, and just wanted to get back into space as quickly as possible. The solution to ground missions was for me to just run into the midst of the enemy and hopefully get killed, then go do something else for a few minutes, while my trusty Bridge Officers killed the remaining enemies and helped me get back up.

Another “flaw” in both the ground and space combat, but much more visible in ground combat, is the utter lack of any death penalty. One of my missions bugged at one point, rendering the level of the boss I was going to kill much much higher than it should be, pretty much unbeatable in a fair fight. However, when he decided to follow me back to my respawn point, things started looking up – except I don’t think the “graveyard zerg” tactic should be one of the more viable ones for defeating tough opponents. Yet, with no death penalty whatsoever, this is unfortunately not only a viable tactic, but a fairly efficient one as well.

Klingon Gameplay and PvP

A separate section is needed here, as the above is mostly generic, but all based on the Starfleet side of the universe. Once you reach Lt. Grade 5 or 6, you receive the option to create a Klingon character. This character will start at Lt. Grade 6 as a member of the Klingon Empire and roam around with his stealthy little Bird of Prey.

I have to admit I didn’t spend a lot of time on my Klingon character, so I can’t go into details on this, but from the little I played, I can tell you there’s a lot of fun to be had with a cloaked ship!

The Klingon progression has been flagged as being very PvP-centric, and I suspect it became quite apparent when one of the first missions I received was to die 25 times in PvP combat.

All the different scenarios were something I didn’t get around to testing, but from what I could see, there’s a wide variety of scenarios and “battlegrounds” to participate in, and the ones I did try were quite a bit of fun, despite me figuring out the hard way how cloaked doesn’t really mean undetectable as I managed to get too close to one of the enemy ships, and received a very timely torpedo barrage before I was able to remove my cloak and raise my shields.

Summary

All in all though, I feel the game as a whole comes off strong despite its flaws. The space combat is quite refreshing, and as you progress to the stages where you gain new ships and more skills, the combat really turns hectic, and it’s increasingly difficult to keep track of all the different angles you need to maintain for weapons, shield values, power balance, positioning to minimize damage and various skills to use.

The concerns are present especially regarding ground combat with away missions, but also in the sense that I feel they may have a case of the diversity and potential for longevity in the game not really showing until you’re quite a while into the game, and as such, it might scare off some people.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep petitioning for Star Trek Online to follow the Starfleet directive prohibiting captains to participate in away missions …

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Aion Early Start

I’ve been quite “busy” having fun in various games and other activities over the summer, and as a result I suspect I didn’t get around to posting things, will see if that can change a bit now though …

I honestly didn’t think I would have the time to post anything at present, as I decided to give Aion a try, after pre-ordering it to get into the beta way back when … it released for pre-orders this sunday, and I’m usually quite occupied when it comes to new MMOs being released, it triggers a rather competitive must-level-asap gene…

Now, the reason for me actually writing here now, is the way NCSoft is handling this lovely launch! Sure, people claim most MMOs are off to a rocky start, but really, the previous two big title MMOs in my book (Warhammer/AoC) both had a fairly decent actual launch, and seeing how Aion already has been running for a year in Asia, there shouldn’t really be any reason for it being dodgy.

The current issue is the fact that servers have insanely long queues to actually get into the game, I came home from work today and immediately queued for login, and found that there was a 4hour 30minute wait ahead of me. I sighed and went around doing other stuff for a while, checking in every now and then to see how things were coming along, then at 5minutes remaining, position 50ish in the queue, the client decided enough was enough, and just froze. Back out and in, why hello there, another 4 hours for you!

I tend to be quite favorable towards developers/gamecompanies when it comes to pretty much any software title. Being a developer myself, I know how messy things can get, and how extremely hard it is to predict issues/bugs and so on, yet, on this occasion I can’t seem to figure out why NCSoft hasn’t launched this smoother.

First off, they knew the amount of people pre-ordering, so they should definitely be able to scale servers accordingly. If that’s not enough, they’re employing the zone-instance approach in-game, which basically lets them have a lot more people on the servers at the same time in the “same” area than most other MMOs, again, if it’s a capacity issue, just spawn more instances! Then, the final straw has to be the fact that they let people pre-register 3 days before actually being able to play. Even if they blatantly ignore the amount of people who have pre-ordered, surely this should be a VERY GOOD indication of how many people would actually want to play the during the early start period!

Now, 2hours and 39minutes remaining, with the launcher still thanking me for my patience, I can’t help but wonder what will happen when the game is officially launched, and the rest of the population who wants to play decides to start playing… also, I can’t help but wonder if any anti-afk type tools are frowned upon, as it’d be quite tempting to just leave the character logged in while at work, to avoid having to spend 80% of the evening in a login queue.

For the record, I’ve managed to play the game for roughly 3 hours in total now, while spending 15 hours in queues!

Oh, and I’ll give the review at a later point, need to hopefully let this slide and give a relatively unbiased review based on the actual in-game features!

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WoW MLG Arena Tournament Weekend

I just finished watching the last matches in the current Major League Gaming event for World of Warcraft 3v3 Arena, and I have to admit I felt like it was overall fairly awesome really!

7 of the best 3v3 teams in USA and 1 of the best from Europe battled in a 3 day event to determine the winner of this tournament, and every match was streamed live with comments and everything. I found it to be a lot more fun to watch than I initially had anticipated, mainly due to being able to see exactly what the players were planning on doing through Blizzards “Arena Viewer” screen-system setup, as well as getting a much better feel for what the teams were doing and trying to accomplish due to having the people commenting the game lay out some of the strats and pinpoint key points and critical twists and turns of the matches. This being especially useful for the classes I was less familiar with coming into the tournament.

One of the interesting things to see is how a team plays in a “random type” match, there are a ton of videos out there which basically are highlights with like 1% of the actual gameplay being done. Although it’s fun to see those at times, for my own “progress” I’m more fond of checking out what people would do in a live setting where they can’t edit out all their crappy messups.

The lineups were fairly “interesting”, with 4 teams playing Rogue/Mage/Priest, 2 teams mainly playing Rogue/Warlock/Shaman, 1 team playing Paladin/Hunter/DK and one mixing it up and playing just about anything, I think mainly Rogue/Ret/Priest though. With 3 of the RMP teams going on to the finals, along with the “PHD” team, I guess it shows what a fairly strong combination the RMP is. I suspect it’s the most versatile combination really, just changing strats for the different teams, able to do just about anything, yet, probably the combination requiring the most individual skill along with team synergy to play successfully.

I think if you have some interest in WoW in general, you should try to check out one of these events being streamed really – it will most likely surprise you in a positive way if you’re sceptical. Unfortunately, the next MLG tournament will not be until August, I just hope the RMP setup will remain relatively strong, as it’s really entertaining for me as a priest-main to see the mirror matches here, and really makes me want to see if I can get around to sort out some decent 3v3s with people on my server.

Also looking forward to more awesome comments from the IRC community who I was “watching” the last day of streaming with, the anonymity of an IRC-nickname surely brings out the politically incorrectness in people, all good fun!

Until then, for arenastreams, arenajunkies usually have some neat ones up at http://www.arenajunkies.com/streams/ – unfortunately, the quality of these streams vary immensely, whereas the quality on the MLG stream was absolutely amazing, near-TV quality really.

Oh, and grats to SK USA for picking up the win in the end, if only the matchup vs Ensidia had been a best out of 30 match… mmmm, could’ve watched those matches all day! :D

SW: The Old Republic - Thoughts

After the launch of the extremely well done trailer for The Old Republic, I’ve been thinking a fair bit regarding what the game will actually look like, and how it will come to work in reality, and decided to ramble…

An interesting thought by the “hidden messages” people seem to imply that Bioware is comparing Blizzard/WoW with the Republic, and as such is sending the message through the trailer that “You thought no force could challenge you …” and “Your republic, will fall..”, which initially made for a great scenario, but after thinking about it for a bit, I’m not sure I’d really want it to be.

The average ingame WoW-mentality is so horrible and crazy that I can’t even begin to describe it, as far as WoW goes, I decided to skip off on a RP server to hopefully experience a bit more mature crowd, and it started out well, but slowly degenerated into similar madness to those that are “Normal/PvP-servers”. I should however note, that after trying out a Blood Elf character on an actual PvP server, I entered silvermoon and managed to fill my ignore list by the time I made it to the Auction House.

On another note, the way WoW has been repeatedly dumbed down and made extremely easy (initially) to cater to the average “not-quite-as-smart-as-the-average-person” makes me worry that this is the standard others will follow. I remember the shock way back when I heard that Blizzard were doing a no penalty for dying deal with WoW, effectively taking the risk out, yet keeping the reward in. Comparing this approach to previous games where you traditionally lose a portion of your xp and could even de-level when you die, it has the side-effect of making people extremely reckless and will not “learn” at all. As a nice example here, in Final Fantasy XI, you’d be losing 10% of your xp required to the next level everytime you die, and you used to HAVE to group to level – implying that if you kept screwing up and making your group wipe, you’d quickly be quite unpopular in the game, and would struggle to actually make it to the higher levels of endgame – which quite simply made a lot of the less skilled people quit, leaving the remaining players quite competent, and with a level of appreciation and respect for the rest. You could “pug” just about anything at higher levels there, not due to it being easy, but due to the fact that people had to know what they were doing to actually get that high. In comparison, leveling to max level in WoW requires something like $30 and a pulse - or rather, if you’re fond of bots, $45 and no pulse.

Now, if this crowd is deciding to move on, I can only assume that Bioware as a business have to cater to these people as well, most likely making the community a very crappy experience – at least from my point of view. I don’t think the immersion they’re aiming towards at Bioware as mentioned in the developer diaries would survive a fair bit of “LF IMBAH TANK FOR KORRIBAN TO RAID SITHIEZ PLZZZZ! LAST SPOT! (PS NO MORE RODIAN TANKS FFS! –.-)”.

For me I suspect what it will come down to is whether or not they’ll actually be able to maintain a decent degree of control in something of an RP server environment. I guess I just want to have fun in the Star Wars Galaxy, and not have crazy people roaming around “ruining my gaming experience”. (HEH! :D) Hopefully either the threshold for playing it will be high enough to maintain a decent community, or the enforcement of typical non-leetspeak and preventing B0baPh4t420s running around in an RP environment will be enough to actually have the game grant the immersion that it aims to have.

I feel I should add that some of the most fun and intense moments I’ve had in my “MMO-career” involved running around with my fresh Jedi in SW:Galaxies, before any of the deathpenalty changes, which meant that if your character died three times, it was permanently dead and you had to start over. The constant fear of your character dying really raised the pulse-level a fair bit, and made you really think about what you were doing. Having to go into town as a Jedi at that point with the possibility of a Bounty Hunter jumping you was enough to make me literally sweat and be completely focused.

I guess I’m hoping for SW: The Old Republic to be a technical success, but not a huge enough all-round success to make it go the way WoW has gone. Is that bad? :)

 

On a side-note, regarding immersion, if you’re reading this Bioware - a collectors edition package bundled with an ACTUAL real-size wearable Jedi-robe would be excellent!

WoW Arena Season 5 and Season 6 - Arena Fun!

I had a break from WoW due to last arena-season being slightly worrying. With last season being the first season at level 80, there was bound to be some sort of imbalance really – but for me it was just too much really. I initially started off with my freshly leveled Paladin and did a few matches right out of the starting blocks really, not having done any PvP with my Paladin before that, and did rather well. A limited skillset with independant skills was really not my idea of having fun in arena though, so I decided to scrap that and level up my Priest to play that instead.

My previous arena history includes grabbing Rival titles from both S3 and S4 with a Priest/Rogue setup, first one with a RL friend, second one with someone I met online. Now, I didn’t actually have someone in mind to play with, as my previous rogue had transfered off to greener pastures, but decided something would show up sooner or later, and just rushleveled Priest up to 80 to start PvPing. It was actually quite refreshing and fun in comparison to the Paladin I played, and, my previous rogue decided to transfer back to once again team up and annihilate the opposition in my battlegroup.

Now, initially things weren’t going all that well, but as we progressed and got slightly better gear – we managed to push through and finally break the 2000rating barrier. However, things just went downhill really…

First off, the skillset of Hunters and Death Knights mainly in combination with Paladins, we would pretty much get properly annihilated if one of these would show up and say “hi!”. Any Hunter-team could mess up several times without being able to lose really, at one point I saw 3 different CC-types on me at the same time from a Hunter/Paladin team, and still we’d barely be able to win that match. I know if we’d screw up our cooldowns like that, we’d struggle with any wins at all really.

Secondly, the weapons and gear for arena was extremely important for success, especially seeing how fresh gear also implies zero resilience, people with the endgame raidgear had an insane advantage over the rest. As someone who really only enjoys the PvP/Arena aspect of the game, neither of us had access to that kind of gear, and was at an immediate disadvantage. It probably didn’t help that I only leveled my Priest *after* playing Paladin in arena for a few weeks and got behind on the gear race even further. As an additional point here, Blizzard had decided to let the raidgear be superior to the top pvp-gear you would be able to get from arena, as such, the dps-classes would mainly want to utilize their raidgear, even if they had access to the arena gear.

As a result of all of this, and after meeting excessive amounts of what people would consider “hard counters” to our setup – where we could really play 100% flawlessly but yet have no chance of winning if they were doing well, we just dropped it, and I ran off to take a break from WoW altogether.

For me, playing 2v2 with my Priest and not playing with a Rogue would just be… something I wouldn’t do to be honest, I’ve just always liked the synergy and relative finesse which you mainly have to use to win. I realize that people who have been properly annihilated by over-raidgeared luckycritting rogues would most likely be whining at this point, but really, when I see the Rogue I’m playing with having to deal with all the different choices possible, the reactions and mainly sneaky tricks in general, I can’t help but feel that it’s not as random as some people will have it. We’ve faced several matches where I see the other rogue just being utterly annihilated by my rogue, despite him not having nowhere near the gear and general damageoutput as the other person if they had been fighting targetdummies. This was one of the things I felt we just had to accept last season, neither of us would get the top gear, and we would just have to start at a slight disadvantage when facing other teams with access to these items.

Now, the new season came in, I was reading up on the patch-notes, and they addressed quite a few of the problems that I felt was making last season quite crappy, namely Hunters had their insane attacks toned down, but the killer is most likely that the manadrain has been toned down to more or less a non-factor. This alone would enable us to have a fighting chance against Hunter teams. Furthermore, I have to admit I’m not all up to speed on what kind of skills the Death Knights use, but I know that I was killed by one at one point who was spamming one attack over and over again, so I’m guessing that quite possibly got toned down a bit. And those were pretty much the nice balancing factors that I felt was “enough” to make me want to give it another go. Then I came to the Priest section, and realized that they’re giving some new utility for Priests as well, increasing the survivability and lasting by so much I had a feeling it’d be a bit too much, but we’d see when the season got going.

One of the new “interesting” things Blizzard did for Season 6 was to start all teams at 0 rating. I assume this was done to sortof make players feel like they were progressing, even if they were eventually going to land up around 1000 rating regardless, and for people in my guild who weren’t at the top of the lists last season, it has been a fairly huge success! The matchmaking system still matches you against your “hidden” rating (which now is a “visible hidden” rating – shown at the end of each match) and gives you points based on the differences in points from the matchmaking rating compared to your teamrating. The rating gain was capped at 47 I believe, and started going down at around 1200, so it would take about 50 wins to get to 1500, and as a result - start looking at the gear rewards.

My other problem with the last season related to gear had also been solved by Blizzard, by letting PvP-weapon/armor-rewards being equal in level to the very endgame content from the PvE part, implying that as people get geared, the gear aspect of the game will more or less fade away, and it’s all down to who can play their classes and combinations best.

After playing for a few days, we were doing fairly well, hanging out around 2000 rating and being quite happy with that really, when the SK-100 (top 100 teams in the world) showed something that made me laugh a bit, apparently in the top 100, almost 50% of the teams were Rogue/Priest! Now, I started thinking about this one, as it’s a fairly crazy thing really. And my theory was that by removing the Hunters from the foodchain, Priests again became the viable healer, Shaman and Paladin healers would go down as they were better against Hunter-teams, but worse against Priest-teams, and adding in the fact that Warriors got buffs and now have the ability to remove the Paladin bubble, those kinds of healers have rapidly dropped below the charts. The entire top player class representation was turned completely around.

I don’t really know what I assumed would happen, I did expect some nerfs to surface soon, but seeing how they let things run wild last season, I expected them to let things calm down for a bit before doing anything quickly, as the top 100 list was nowhere near completed due to the fact that most teams had to start at 0, and not all the top teams would’ve been able to play enough to get “up there”.

But, I guess I was wrong about Blizzard again, and they started their new policy, with “today we’ve patched in these changes …” type announcements, instead of letting things run through the normal patch-cycle. Priests got a few slaps in the face, but, I’m not too concerned about that really. All I see now is that things are starting to look a bit more like they were in S3/S4, with a slightly more balanced field, letting PvPers have as good gear as PvEers, and having a feeling of being able to stand a chance at most combinations we’re up against, yet we’re able to lose horribly in the same matchups if we’re not doing what we should. My favorite types of matches now have actually become the mirror matches where we play other Priest/Rogue teams, more specifically the matches that go on for a good 5+ minutes. I think even if it’s a win or loss there, it’s a fun test for both teams, and they have a great way of going back and forth creating a fair amount of close calls and recoveries.

… of course, those matches will hopefully be a bit more fun tomorrow when we get our first S6 weapons … :) sitting at 2100 rating now before that, and our last rated match was a win against a double undead mirror at ~2450 matchmakingrating, good fun! Hopefully that’s us in a few weeks. :)

 

Ooh, reminds me, I should start recording some matches again, recruited a fair few players last time I recorded arenafights in S3/S4.

MMOs - Yay FFXI!

After a fair bit of arena in last WoW season where you’d basically just end up leaving as soon as you saw a Hunter, I decided to stop playing WoW for a while and see what else I could come up with.

I went through my standard phase of “patching all possible candidates”, which basically involves patching up to date 4-5 different MMOs I’ve been playing over the years, then reading up on the different games to see if there had been any major changes done in either of them.

The game I ended up having a bit of fun with was FFXI, or Final Fantasy Online. I think it might actually be one of the older MMOs I have played, having a launch date in 2002 or somewhere around there – but it’s still heaps of fun! Now, my reason for leaving this game was sitting around in the main town for an entire weekend looking for a group that would take in my Summoner, and just giving up after being so frustrated with not being invited to anything really.

The basic idea of Final Fantasy Online is a thorough PvE game set in the Final Fantasy universe. What really puts this MMO in its own category is the fact that it’s actually developed for both PS2 and PC, then ported to Xbox360 later, meaning it’s probably the first major console MMORPG to hit markets. (Not counting PSO etc as MMORPG) Furthermore, it’s to my knowledge the first MMO which has a world-wide server audience in mind, and implementing an in-game translation tool for the Japanese/English languages.

The way FFXI is mainly played is through grouping. Leveling goes from 1 to 75, and you used to want to group from 10 to 75 really, which is what made me stop playing as my beloved class wasn’t as wanted in groups as quite a few of the other classes. And add to that the fact that you’d basically lose 10% of your xp needed to the next level every time you died, you’d be very careful about inviting only the classes that you felt really contributed in the best sense to your group, fair call really.

Now, what made me try this game again was a nice read at the FFXI Wiki, describing a fair few changes done “recently”, namely improving the XP gained from soloing, improving the XP gained from smaller groups – and the most interesting feature, a “Level Sync” feature, which basically lets you play with everyone at “any level” regardless of what level they’re at.

The ability to sync to levels isn’t unique in this MMO though, it’s been done through mentoring/sidekicking/whatnot in other game,s but what sortof sets this implementation apart from the rest, is the way it benefits people. The XP System in FFXI gives you 100xp for defeating an equal level mob, regardless of level. So, when you levelsync down to another level, you still manage to maintain the same XP-gain, even though you may have synchronized your level down from 60 to 20. So you can actually level from 60 to 61 in level 20 groups.

I think this implementation is what would’ve made the game a lot easier to play “back when” I actually played this actively with my friends. The problem with leveling at that point was that you pretty much always needed a perfect group set, and the perfect level, to actually level at a decent rate. This pretty much solves all of those problems, and enables friends to play whenever they want really.

Now, if only I hadn’t been the only one I knew of who played this game at the moment… :(

- Mijan, Level 22DNC/NIN

Fable 2 Ending

I’ll try to avoid spoiling too much while still talking about it here … I finally sat down to play through Fable 2 this weekend, and can only say that I’m slightly worried about the decisions I assume they made towards the end of the game related to the “final boss fight”.

I guess with the “we still want you to play, even though you finished the game!”-mentality, I can to a certain extent understand why they decided against making it the end-all battle, but seriously!

Even though you don’t get the proper satisfaction there, the humor involved in the Castle-quest available to you after you “beat” the game makes up for it though, the reward there is a fun feature that made me laugh a fair bit. :)

All in all, Fable 2 is a good fun game, it’s no fallout/oblivion sandbox-game though.

Guitar Hero Metallica Demo

The demo for the upcoming Guitar Hero: Metallica is now available for download at the Xbox Live Marketplace!

I decided to give it a try myself to see if there had been any revolutionary changes to the overall gameplay… (right) and found their “new feature”! This is based on the GH:WT engine, so all the current features there are included, but then they have added one of the popular features from the Rock Band achievers, where you now see how far inbetween the star-ratings you are.

The only thing I’d like them to add now is the gold-star concept from Rock Band, to give the achievers something a bit more hardcore to aim for, yet not as insane as the 100% requirement currently in place. By all means, keep the 100% as a separate level, make it platinum stars or something – but – it’s just quite fun to have a stretch-goal which isn’t quite at the 100%-mark yet, as that’s a really painful goal for most people.

Darkfall Online Review of Sorts

I've been following Darkfall for quite some time, checking up on things now and then - waiting for it to possibly be the new Shadowbane type game that I quite enjoyed roaming around in. The basic premise seems to be an open sandbox full pvp world, with emphasis on combat requiring "true skill" as the people on the forum tend to describe it.

All in all, the overall concept is quite decent on paper really, as it's a fair contrast to what other current popular mmos have to offer at present, and there's quite a few people from the "hardcore pvp-scene" who are quite fond of this game, and have been waiting anxiously the last few years for something similar to this to appear.

Before going into details regarding my experience, I feel I should add in some disclaimers here. The developing company of Darkfall Online, Aventurine, is an independent developer without any proper development publisher behind them, and they seem to be suffering a bit as a result of this. More on this later.

First off, the Darkfall launch was initially set to be in January, but shortly before that it was pushed back to late February. Fair enough, quite a few mmos do that nowadays, nothing bad there really. However, at the actual launch date, the shopping system and general infrastructure was revealed to be nothing short of a complete mess. At the initial launch, only a few lucky people who had pre-ordered were able to make their purchase and enter the lovely new world, after that, Aventurine shut down the sales as they were concerned about server population and so on. I can't seem to find any actual numbers from official sources, but the general public seem to think that somewhere around 5-6000 copies were sold initially. For a game who has 350,000 members registered on their forums, surely this would seem slightly low.

After a few more days after, the store still wasn't back up, and it would take a whole week before they decided to put the store back up. At that point, they kept the store open for a period of 10-20minutes, then shut it down again to keep the number of new people coming into the game limited. The assumed number of copies made available per day seem to be somewhere around 1000.

This practice followed, and I decided that I'd want to get a copy, and as such, I camped the online store at around the time they were opening, and tried to get a hold of an order, but to no avail. First day of camping gave me nothing but a good overview of how the actual purchasing process was set up. I spent some time checking out the forums, who were obviously quite swarmed with angry people wanting to play. Can't really blame them, as entering a fresh online world is in my opinion a LOT more fun than one already populated, especially considering the open PvP format of the game. A dodgy side-effect of this is that empty accounts for Darkfall were seen as high as $200US on ebay before being canceled due to violating terms.

Forums had a nice walkthrough post listed, which probably isn't the standard walkthrough you'd imagine it to be... it was actually a detailed post describing exactly how to *buy* the game. Now, I know how this sounds, but it's true! And following this walkthrough, along with a fair bit of luck and patience - I managed to secure my copy the following day...

When I finally logged into my account for the game, I saw one of the major issues with why it was like it was - only one server available! And the fact that they were trying to keep people from getting into the game seem to be related to them wanting to not have a lot of people running around in the starting areas at the same time.

Upon arriving ingame, I managed to roam around for a bit, do some quests, kill some goblins and loot some stuff and all that good stuff!

First impressions were, the UI is really horrible, I've seen better UIs in the mass produced korean MMOs really. The skill system is 'interesting', as it's a UO-copy, where you have skills that level up based on usage, meaning the more you swing a sword, the better you get at it and so on. And finally, the graphics and overall movement/feeling ... ish.

The skill/spell system has the reasonable premise of usage being the best way to skill it up, this will by many of the seasoned mmo-players instantly trigger a "MACROING!" line of thought, which is fair really! I can take SWG as an example, where you even were allowed to make recursive macros - and if you were able to make your character level some boring skills a fair bit while you slept, wouldn't you want to? Now, the devs have been extremely vague on this subject, despite addressing it several times. The latest official word on it was that unattended macroing or disruptive skillups in safezones were prohibited and cause for bans, and the same behaviour out in the world was done "at your own risk", now, at the own risk of what? Being banned? Killed by other players? Successfully skilling up to max?

The combat is awkward at best from what I experienced. The melee combat is done in a third person over the shoulder view, where you more or less spam the mouse button with your slashes, choosing either to slash horizontally or vertically, depending on whether or not you want to hit more than one target at the same time. This really feels like... something that's hard to describe really, closest I could come is "something I could've played quite a few years back". Archery and Magic use an FPS-view for combat, which felt a bit more "fun" to engage in, however, seeing how the low level magic spells were hardly doing any damage at all, combined with arrows for bows and reagents for the high level spells being rather expensive, the game seems to be quite intent on making you melee quite a fair bit, and I'm not sure I like that. From my point of view, the "true skill" portion of this melee-system as advocated by the hardcore forum-fans is about as "true skill" as two warriors dueling with autoattack exclusively in WoW. Really.

All in all, it seems like the game is suffering a fair bit from the whole Aventurine being an independent developer deal, perhaps lacking the proper management that would be needed to make Darkfall a success. With the apparent huge fanbase as it has at present, there's a huge market for having a lot of players in the game now - which seems to be squandered by lack of servers and overall marketing. If you check out their webpage for instance, there hasn't been any updates since before launch, there's really no sign of the game actually being live there. It just seems to me that they need management who understands the fans they're catering to, and the mmo-crowd in general. With that, I suspect Aventurine would be having a lot more success than they're having at present.

As for me, the 2hour queues whenever I seem to want to try it out was the final straw, so, account canceled and just like before ...

... waiting for SW: The Old Republic ... :)