Wednesday, November 26, 2008

AIR - Steampunk Online RPG

"Picture the Earth, post apocalypse. Land has been broken and thrown inexplicitly into the aether, and there hangs a world of floating cities - islands in a sea of clouds.."

That's a description of a new indie steampunk game in the works, called AIR. Players will be able to sail the skies as a sky pirate, naval officer, or mercenary. Other professions include Eyot Miner and Farmer, Tinkerer, Chemist, Scientist, and Noble. No screenshots yet or much other information.

Captain Robert of Abney Park will be doing the soundtrack. I love these guys. Can't wait to see how this develops.

Monday, November 24, 2008

EQ2-Shadow Odyssey Impressions

While my beta experience wasn't favorable, I was still hopeful some modifications might have been made after I left. So I set out to experience all aspects of the most recent expansion, except for raiding.

Moors of Ykesha - This is considered to be the outdoor solo zone. It's separated into three main areas. Normally, EQ2 travel involves zoning, but the Moors is one mega zone with no zoning involved. And this approach has been causing some problems. For many, this area is unplayable due to lag and delays. Fights are taking forever as you stand there not moving unable to do anything for seconds at a time.

The quests do have you running long distances back and forth but many have been fun to complete. Several involve using illusions to gather information from the hostiles. There are three factions you are working for. I have not seen any armor or weapon rewards, but have received some upgraded charm slot items. I'm assuming the intention is you work through the dungeons if you want armor. Also, the only purpose I've seen so far to gain faction is to purchase furniture recipe books.

While it is considered a solo zone, I've been hearing a lot of grumblings in guild from people attempting to do so and several have given up already. Many areas are jam packed with mobs making it more difficult to solo. And they dot you to death. I have never seen mobs constantly stacking up the dots like these. They root you, stun you, and put all sorts of nonsense on you. And if you cure it, it's immediately put back on. This part is a bit annoying. My husband and I have been duoing, so it's not been so bad for us. But I have seen very few soloers running around. Most have been guild groups. Overall, we're having a decent time doing the quests. With the new achievement points they've introduced, it's the most efficient way for our level 80's to gain more points.

The Dungeons - There are 20 new dungeons and they had been rated by difficulty from easy, moderate or hard and some in between. This is assuming you are raid geared. For casual players the rating is extremely hard or forget about it. We ventured with a full group into one of the "easy" dungeons. We picked up a mission to acquire four items. While there were some neat DDO type aspects like traps and solving puzzles, the mobs themselves were just too much to handle. Three hours and multiple deaths later, we had only one of the four items. Folks started saying they either had to go or needed to repair so we split up and left to lick our wounds. I logged back in a few hours later and one guild member asked if we wanted to try again. Everyone responded "no" and discussion followed about how the casual players got the shaft here. We all felt so inadequate. Our guild's intention was to run dungeon instances one week night and every weekend. But we're done. These dungeons clearly weren't intended for us.

Some people have been working around this by having a second account with a lower level. Everyone mentors the lower level and then unmentors once in the dungeon so the mobs are grey. They don't get experience but they get their shard for completing the mission. We shouldn't have to work around the system this way. Some had returned to EQ2 recently thinking we'd be getting an LDoN type experience. What a huge disappointment.

Crafting Missions - Ok on to something more positive. There is a new faction and they are stationed on the Isle of Mara. You can do a solo mission for them once a week and a group mission once a day. You receive a token and save them up to buy mounts, recipes, or crafting armor. The intent was that crafters would get together to work on these, but I have yet to see anyone asking for groups or looking for more in the crafting channel. I did my first crafting mission with some guild mates. We were stocking up some troops to beef them up for this battle that was taking place as we crafted. Upon completion, a big fight took place and a chest dropped with crafting related goodies. True to my usual luck in MMO's, I walked away with none of it. The next day I enlisted hubby to do one with me and will likely just go that route so I can at least get something from it. My guess is others are soloing them to be sure they get something. It does take longer to solo, about three hours I hear, but it can be done. Would be nice if other aspects of the game worked this way.

For crafters, this is the best expansion to date. For the well-equipped more hardcore, they are likely having fun in the dungeons. Since they are already geared up, not sure what they will spend those shards on though. For the casual soloer, you might be able to solo in the Moors depending on class. For the casual grouper, nothing to see here; move along.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Meaningful Solo in MMO's

Not a week goes by where I don't see a remark somewhere on some forum that the current trend of soloing is ruining MMO's. But I think they have it all wrong. In comparison to older titles, the more recent ones are actually less solo friendly.

Let's look at EQ1, what many consider to have been the ultimate grouping game. A good portion of folks I knew there soloed at some point. Every one of my alts soloed, of course some better than others. It took a long while to kill something, your experience bar didn't move much, and maybe you had to stick to green/light blue mobs. But it was done. Typically, I'd go to a zone and start soloing. If someone shouted out that they were looking for more, I joined in. If someone shouted looking for a group, I invited them to join me and eventually more would join. While leveling was still slow, grouping took some of the tedium away and just made things more enjoyable overall.

In more recent titles, leveling speed is increased and quests often yield more than the kills. It's not efficient to group since many are on different quests. And forming up groups is more tedious than just going out and getting it done on your own.

All that's changed is leveling speed, color of mobs you can take on, and the introduction of quests. But there's one major difference in current titles from prior. There is no meaningful solo content anymore. In EQ1 there were numerous dungeons that could be soloed, many with placeholders for named mobs that dropped nice items. This wasn't exclusive to dungeons though. Named mobs could be found in outdoor zones as well, if you didn't mind camping a spot to get them to spawn. In DAOC also dungeons and named mobs indoors and out could be soloed, both for armor and trophy heads which could be mounted and placed in your home. I didn't have the best gear and didn't always have the best solo class. But there were meaningful things for me to do on my own while out adventuring. Even SWG was more solo friendly pre-NGE than it is today.

In the current games I've played, you solo strictly to level. It doesn't lead to eventual groups and usually gains you nothing but experience. Anything meaningful, and what I consider to be fun, requires groups, usually full ones at that. And they are organized events, not chance encounters while you're out and about. Occasionally you might meet someone on the same quest. You group up for a few minutes to get it done and then part ways. So come to think of it, not only are current games less solo friendly, but also less group friendly.

So soloing has always been around. It's just not very fun anymore.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dungeons & Dragons Online - New Player Revamp

DDO has launched Module 8: Prisoners of Prophecy. Along with a graphics engine upgrade, a new wilderness area, and some high level dungeons, they have added the following:

- Enhanced New Player Experience: To support a more story-based and friendly introduction to the game and make DDO more accessible to players unfamiliar with the 3.5 Edition rules-set, we have created a completely new starter experience. Players will now have the option to create well-built characters based on their play style without needing to assign any stat or skill points, or select any feats or spells. Subsequent characters created on the account will have the option to skip the tutorial, and will gain relevant XP and rewards as if they had completed it.

- Introducing Hirelings: Hirelings is a huge new system designed to improve the solo play experience in DDO by letting players contract henchmen to help them in their adventures. Hirelings are player controlled NPC combatants with a given class, level and personality that can be contracted to aid a player in the dungeons of Stormreach. Players can contract with one Hireling of their level or lower for a few hours at a time, or until the adventure they are playing is complete. This massive new system will be introduced to players through a series of live in-game events after the launch of Prisoners of Prophecy.

Although I had heard of D&D, I had never played it and was not someone familiar with the rules and the die rolls. I had to do a lot of reading to figure out how to set up my character. My husband wasn't too keen on DDO during our trial, particularly since we really couldn't duo anything past the first few dungeons. But I enjoyed it enough to subscribe for a couple months afterwards. I did join in on some pickup groups of experienced players whom had already been through the dungeons so raced through them rather quickly. I really felt like a noob in this game though. If I could have convinced my husband to join me and perhaps join a guild, I think I might have enjoyed it for awhile. So I think the new player experience change is a good thing, making the game a little less intimidating for those unfamiliar.

The hirelings system seems to be the new trend. Considering we couldn't duo, not sure how well a hireling will benefit a soloer unless the game has changed since I played. But I'm curious enough to see how well it will work for a duo. I'm going to resubscribe at least for a month to see these changes firsthand and maybe I can convince the other half to finally explore it with me.

I'm not sure at this stage of the game if it's enough to bring in players. But their timing is pretty good. There's a lot of discontent right now with the new releases this year, so some will likely at least be willing to try it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

EQ2 - The Shadow Odyssey

It's been about a week since the NDA was lifted for EQ2's upcoming expansion. I thought I'd hear more buzz about it as I had for prior expansions, but things have been pretty quiet, except for complaining on the forums.

I was in the beta for this expansion and personally was extremely disappointed. First, there is the overland solo zone, Moors of Ykesha. You access this zone from an airship in Sinking Sands, which was actually pretty cool the first time I saw one. The zone itself I didn't find particularly attractive and was confusing to nagivate. It's sort of like Sinking Sands but with rocks instead of sand. The mobs start at level 76 and will serve as a way for level 80's to obtain achievement experience so they have points to spend in the new achievement lines.

Some classes will gain some nice damage increases from the new achievements. For my mystic, they were a bit uninspiring...2% more to this buff or this heal, etc. And to get to that point, I have to spend a lot of prior points on unnecessary things. The one nice ability though was the achievement granting the chance to gain additional harvests while out harvesting.

There are 20 new dungeons. You gain a shard for completing the dungeon and accumulate shards to purchase legendary gear. We were given fabled gear to test the dungeons so difficulty was adjusted according to fabled testers. I'm not sure what the logic there was. Anyone who has fabled won't need the legendary except for some filler pieces here and there. Those who would want the legendary gear are in mastercrafted/treasured, but the dungeons will be difficult to complete in that gear. I was a huge fan of LDoN in EQ1. This is no LDoN where you could complete one with three people or an all beastlord group (now that was fun). These are full group difficult dungeons requiring all the necessary classes to succeed. In beta one piece of armor required about 10 shards; however, we were told the requirement would be doubled or tripled for the expansion. So expect to do 20 to 30 dungeons to acquire one piece.

The expansion seems to me to be an overreaction to the complaints about last year's expansion being too solo oriented. We do plan to attempt them with our guild to try to gear us up. So we'll just have to wait and see if we can actually complete any. Once people have a few pieces and have done them 50 times though, I think it will be difficult finding full groups to do them. The one or two that are determined to be easier than others will still get some traffic for awhile, while 10+ dungeons will sit empty, much like most Kunark dungeons are empty.

I think anyone who enjoyed the KoS expansion will probably enjoy this one. I'm not a fan of KoS and never go there. My favorite expansion so far has been EoF. There was content from 1-70, a new starting area, and the zones were beautiful. I pretty much do all my leveling exclusively in these zones. With so many expressing disappointment with this expansion, there's lots of talk on what the next expansion might bring instead. Looking at what zones from EQ1 are still missing in EQ2, there's some speculation that maybe it would be the continent of Odus with Paineel and Erudin as new starting areas. At least that's how I hope they would offer those cities, instead of what they've done to poor Kaladim, Ak'Anon and Felwithe.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Conan in LotRO

I was always amazed by some of the performances I came across in LotRO.