Five Reasons Wildstar Turned Me Off

ETA: 10/8/15.  Many people are finding their way here as Wildstar goes F2P.  Please know that this was written from my beta experiences in the game and some things will have changed.  If the article is too long and you are just looking for a TL;DR summary:  I don’t like WildStar’s style or mechanics, but its not really a bad game.  Its just a niche MMO that really only appeals to a certain audience.   Now that its F2P (as predicted below) whether or not you fit in that audience is up to you to find out.

Its five for Friday, and while in yonder years I would do a full on write up of a game when the NDA dropped, these days…I’m just not that keen on it. So I’m hijacking my new Friday format to answer the burning question: “Why don’t you like Wildstar?”

Along the way we will answer that secondary question – why its perfectly legitimate to call Wildstar “WoW 2.0 In Space,” despite assertions to the contrary.

1) Turns Out Paths Are Not That Unique

So when I get into the Beta, I start doing some digging and asking around about Paths. I know they are loosely based on Bartle’s dichotomy, and so normally I would pick and Explorer. But the devil is in the details – how exactly do you let one explore? Well, turns out, for Wildstar, at least according to what I’ve read and the players I talked to in game, Exploring involves some wandering, but also a good bit of platforming. I hate platforming. So I decide to pass on exploring. I know its been a big deal (love it or hate it) in GW2 and I’m sure Wilstar wanted to capitalize on some of that as a trend in MMO gaming.

Well, no big deal, I’m also a lore hound, and so I figure Scientist works for me. It requires you to carry around a noncombat pet that can die in combat but can’t fight for you (strike 1), but hey, I play a lot of pet classes, so I can live with that. Somehow, I managed to not complete my first Science mission, in the tutorial arc, which is bad. Because you can’t go back and finish it, and this is a themepark MMO – which means now my science level will now never be as high as it could be. Granted this is Beta, but how often will this happen in the full game? Is it just this one mission I can’t go back to? And with that one miss, we have turned what could be a fun – well, path – into something that feels like a must do (strike 2). And so I dive with enthusiasm into the next couple of missions only to find one that requires me to…wait for it…go platforming to complete it. And sure enough I miss. And miss again. And miss again. But I have to complete it, because if not I’ll be behind! And then I won’t get the rewards and XP that everyone else has and….you know what, forget it (strike 3). Someone tell me why being a lore hound means you have to saddle yourself with a noncombat pet that dies every time you get into combat and platforming?

I guess “loosely” really is the key word here. In reality, its just four bonus rounds to give you a crutch through replayability (and some are not even that – some of the soldier missions basically amount to killing extra waves of the same enemies in the same area – ::yawn::) Because Wildstar is going to be a game that looks to get you to level multiple characters to the top of the charts to keep that sub going, and this is a way to help swallow that bitter pill. Quick, can anyone think of another themepark MMO that has become famous for getting people to level alts all the way to the top?

2) Why Am I Paying For My Abilities?

I’m just not sure I get it. For the most part, developers have figured out that artificially slowing you down and capping your power is a bad thing. Its just not fun to hit that ding finally, be stoked about a new level, and have nothing to show for it. We want those abilities to pop up in the hot bar. We want to see tangibly how we are now more powerful and can kick more but. That we have indeed climbed higher on the curve. But not here. Get your hoverboard ready kiddos, because you are going to need to ride back into town to buy that new sword swing.

That’s just a money sink right? What kinds of games need money sinks? And how many games these days make you buy your abilities when you level up?

3) I Can’t Play What I Want To

Many bloggers have been over this before, but it truly is one of the things that turns me off. I want to play a Mordesh Esper. But space zombies don’t have brains. Or something. Look, to paraphrase legendary game designer Luke Crane, if I as a developer create a game where magic is dead, and I have a player that says, “I want to play the last living mage,” the answer is always and emphatic, resounding “YES.” Particularly in a game like Wildstar where your character is supposed to be a hero. Heroes break the mold, the do the extraordinary. I don’t care that space zombies don’t have the brains to be an Esper in your lore. That is completely irrelevant. The real question is why my extraordinary, heroic Mordesh can’t be an Esper. And the only viable answer to that question is a developer saying “because I don’t want you to.”

This isn’t 2004, and you don’t have an 11 million 9 million person playerbase. Open the options up.

4) The Totally Original Art Style

Its cute, its whimsical, its fun, its like nothing you’ve ever seen before!

wildstar art style

5) I Got Deus Ex‘d Into Playing The Exact Same Area All Over Again

I can’t believe this actually happened, but it did. I completed an sub area, to finish off a greater area. I had succeeded, mission accomplished, well done, good job! Go stand here and watch the victory animation unfold so that you can move to the next area!

But then, the hand of God descending…well, not really, because they hadn’t put in the graphics for it yet…but I gathered from the quest text, that the spaceship I was waiting for had been blasted into oblivion. The NPC I had spent time and effort saving was now dead. The NPC whose gratitude I had for saving said NPC is now pissed. And to make things even worse, to fix things, I have to go back into the same area and do more missions. Why?

Because the developers decided that having the players move to a new area was not as good as reusing space they had already designed for yet another leg of missions.

Really? We are skimping on areas now? We are reusing the same areas over and over again for new quests, just to squeeze some extra time in them and to keep from having to design new areas and new levels? And we’ve done it in such a way as to make you absolutely powerless in the storyline, and to reveal the “do-over” as a result of that, well, it doesn’t come off as anything other than a punishment for a crime you did not commit.

That’s not smart design. Its not good design. Its crappy design, and perhaps even worse, lazy design. If we are going to make a themepark MMO, what is the point of making people ride the same rides over and over again? Isn’t part of the reward the progression of uncovering new rides?

Of all the things I’ve mentioned here, this one took the cake. I still am shaking my head as I write this. Whose idea was it? Did they think it was a good one? I mean isn’t having to double back into areas for quests the epitome of bad quest design? This is basically that, but more.

Bonus) The Silver Lining

Wildstar isn’t all bad. It has its moments. In the good ones, it feels almost like a sort of fantasy version of Firefly/Serenity. A Wild West Fantasy Sci-Fi Pulp Mashup. And I can see the appeal in that, despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of space bunnies and space zombies.

The abilities are fun, despite the generic three tree of skill progression (tank/heal or DPS? Oh, the choices…), and the limited bar is part of that.

This is one of those games, that I could see dipping into from time to for fun. But the sub really does make that an impossibility. Perhaps once the game transitions to F2P – and make no mistake, it will eventually do just that (once they figure out that they are WoW but without millions people willing to sub up) – then I could see giving it a run through.

And one final thing – I have always said Wildstar was “WoW 2.0 in Space.” It is an improvement over WoW, there can be no doubt about it. There are things here that, while not really innovative, are steps forward from where WoW is. In fact, you might say that if Blizzard were to remake WoW today, Wildstar, at least mechanically, is probably what you would expect them to do. In that sense, it is not a bad game. But the comparisons are aboslutely deserved, and nobody can complain that they don’t know what they are getting out of this game. Its all but written on the tagline.

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The Wonderful World of Project: Gorgon

It was a crazy week at the HZ household.  My wife spent the week in LA, specifically the Beverly Hills Hilton, because it was her company’s five year anniversary, and they are rolling in money, so they decided to throw a big party.  Definitely not your normal business trip!  But last weekend, I got to experience something unique, and I hope its not the last time I will do so.

Awhile ago, The Ancient Gaming Noob alerted us all to a Kickstarter Project for an Indie MMO being worked on by some industry vets: Project Gorgon.  I admit to being a little skeptical.  One reason is that I have very little experience with KS.  Another was that I just wasn’t convinced that a small team could pull off making an MMO that I would enjoy and find immersive.  They take a lot of work and have long development times, right?

Long story short, the Kickstarter Project only got pledged to about 25% of its goal.  And I can tell you in hindsight that we all missed out on a great opportunity.  Towards the end of the drive, Eric opened up the server as a “Pre-Alpha” look at the game, with what they had accomplished so far.   We got to play around in what I would call the “tutorial” starting area, which lead into at least two overland zones and at least two dungeons.  There may have been more, that that’s all I made it to in the short playtime I had over the weekend.  The game currently uses “off-the-shelf” stock art assets, some licensed, some donated by fans, and had a pretty basic UI.   In other words, its not much to look at right now:

Still…not bad for a “pre-alpha!”

While you can catch up on all the development blogs on Eric’s website, I can tell you in short summary that his ideas on paper – are working in the game.  Quite well.  The basic idea is a sort of old-school, sandbox MMO.  By old-school he doesn’t mean “hard as hell, with no convenience” – he means, if you drop an item on the ground, it stays there.  If you milk a cow in the shed, nobody else will be able to run up and milk that cow until it produces more milk.   All while not creating a quest that requires every player in the game to stand in line for hours competing for rare cow’s milk.  And by sandbox he doesn’t mean you can go around slitting player throats and being an ass, but that one way to get cow’s milk might be to turn yourself into one and learn how to produce it.  I kid you not.   And I know it sounds crazy, and that you are dubious, which is why I am telling you now – it works!

It’s like tasting the rainbow – of yuck.

For character development – from being a cow to being a swordsman, are not classes in the traditional sense.  Nor is there a list of 1,001 skills to freeform your character with.  Instead there is a series of “skill sets” in the game that come with their own advantages and disadvantages (ranging from mild to severe) that can be learned and then leveled up.  Each character can operate two skill sets simultaneously (the left and right side of the armor/health meter in the first picture) and use generates XP that in turn unlocks new skills to use or improves existing skills or generates new perks that come into play while using the set.  Most of the sets will also give you a general stat bonus as you level them up, improving your health or stamina (which is used to power all those skills).

I got to play around with Swordsman, Hand to Hand, Combat Psychology, Alchemy, and Fire Magic in my short time.  In addition, there are several “tertiary” skills that can  be learned and placed on the left hand bar, not requiring an “equipped” skill set.  For example in my first screen shot, you can see on the top left that I have learned how to tame rats as a temporary combat pet.  This, in the nature of the game, requires cheese.  And while the rat will happily protect you if you give it cheese, it will not follow you three zones away from its home.  You see how the design philosophy plays out?

The skill sets above are fairly standard ones that you can pick up either at the start of the game as part of the tutorial, or by conversations with various townspeople.  But there are also some nonstandard sets.  Drinking the bad milk will turn you into a cow, there are ways to learn a Were-Wolf skill set that – yes, requires you to be in wolf form for three days out of every month and which means you won’t be headed into town, unless you have discovered a way to convince the townsfolk not to run in gibbering fear from your presence.  For every action and power – there is an opposite reaction and curse.

But you might ask about the gameplay itself – is it fun, or the usual?  Well, its a nice twist on the usual.  One of the twists is this: you’ll notice there is an armor stat in addition to the health stat.  This acts as a sort of second HP bar, that must be depleted before health can be affected.  Of course, some attacks do only armor or only health damage and so on.  Just this one wrinkle in the usual combat formula creates some interesting side effects that ripple throughout combat.   For example, fighting now with a sword and an open hand allows you to take advantage of some great moves from the Swordsman and Hand to Hand set that will break down armor quickly and also do some high health strikes.  The downside is that without a shield – your own armor score will not be nearly as high.  Magic doesn’t have to do huge DPS bursts to be effective and thus can be balanced along similar parameters with other skill sets, because they can be given some skills that will bypass armor.  By the same token, some defensive skills could be programmed to raise your armor – helping a mage against a swordsman, but not as much against another mage!

Group play becomes a nice bundle of give and take as well.  An armored giant (high armor) might mean that your groups swordsman takes center stage, while a giant spider (low armor, high health)  is best handled by trying to keep it under control while your fire mage whittles down its health.  You want a paradigm shift from the unholy trinity that still “feels” right to the players and doesn’t take an advanced MMO degree to learn?  This is a great way to make that shift happen.

I have more to say, so I’m going to break this down into two posts.   Tomorrow or Wednesday, I’ll talk about crafting, and the world of Project:Gorgon itself.  Stay tuned.

Failcom is Alive and Well: No Secret World For Me (Update 7/9)

ETA:  As noted in the comments, Funcom eventually extended the grace period to a full week, a move I very much applaud, and also have dropped several notes to the community to assure them they are working on the glitch I encountered.  So perhaps Failcom has learned well from its past mistakes after all!

 

While TSW’s launch has, for most, been a pretty solid affair (no server drops, mostly minor glitches), I seem to have had a serious run of what could be termed bad luck.

It all started a couple of days after launch with an odd glitch.  First my chat box went down.  I couldn’t type in group chat.  I finally realized that the game had unsubbed me from the group channel, an odd “option” in and of itself.   But not long after that, the entire chat box went down.  No Say, no Tell, no General.  Nothing.  After some back and forth via text with my brother and another friend – we realized that not only could I not chat, the game did not believe my character existed.  I could send and receive group invites, but that was about it.  Try to add me to your friends list?  Nope, character doesn’t exist.  Try to “Meet me” – zone in to where the group was.  Nope, doesn’t exist (I could still zone to you, not that it matter).

I sent out a support ticket, but an hour later, with no response and time getting late, I logged off.  I checked every day after that – no response.  I did check the forums and saw a Dev post that this was a “known problem” and that they were working on it and hoped to have it fixed “in the next update or two.”  Awesome.   So I started another character, but…I was pretty set on what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t keen on duplicating missions I had literally just done the previous day.

Cue phase two of the disaster: Amazon.

You see, I opted not to pay for release day shipping, because I’ve never had a problem with it .  But my copy of TSW just, as of about 15 minutes ago, started the long journey from a warehouse in the bowels of Amazon’s digital empire to my doorstep.   It won’t be here until the middle of next week.

Meanwhile, Funcom has decided that the grace period for getting your copy of the game would apparently be 48 hours.  Because I am, as of right now, locked out of my account.   Now, allow me to be frank:  that is utter bullshit.  I have never been a part of a launch (and I have seen more than my fair share at this point) that did not give a week for a grace period.  Add onto that that one of the grace period days was a national holiday, where there was no shipping going on, and you have a royal fail.

You can get the game right (and I think they did), but the game is only half the battle.  I had hoped that some things had changed, but I guess not.  We are still dealing with the same old Failcom.

TERA Online Review

My “Review” of TERA Online (or at least, its Open Beta).  Yes, I use the quote marks as usual.  I am not sure one can review an MMO based on one weekend of play, so please take my comments with a box of salt.

However, you should know that this commentary comes with no previous bias.  I have not been following TERA at all, and I didn’t make the connection that this was the game with all the commercials from that MMA guy until after the fact.  I just got an email with an invitation to the open beta, and I am always down for that.  Its also worth noting that the political system is supposedly a big part of this game, but it was not open for the beta and I know next to nothing about it, so it is not covered here at all.  So without further ado, in the usual format, my “review”.

The character models tend to be oversexed, but its also hard to deny the level of detail involved here, or just how beautiful the models are.

The Good

A New Spin on Old Ideas:  The first thing I have to say is that I was thrilled with the class selection.  Having a healing class that was pet driven (Mystic) and whose heals actually geographically deployed powerups was a lot of fun for a guy who is used to just sending in his pet to attack and then nuking the hell out of one target.  I also spent about half my time playing around with the Warrior class to see how melee really worked.  It brought back some fond memories of the Devil May Cry series (particularly when I gave the Slayer class a whirl).   I enjoyed that the warrior class tended to be a giant hat tip to Musashi, with a spiritual tint to the abilities and removal from its usual role of “tank.”   There is definitely a skill and learning curve to be tended too, particularly for melee classes.   Solo play with the Mystic was for the most part a breeze, with the warrior it was for the most part a challenge.  Eventually you will get the hang of dodging and ducking – but here is the great part – you may master the basic moves, but the opponents keep changing, and so do their tactics.  So each new quest and quest area will also bring with it renewed attention to how you play your class.  The skill chain you set up that worked great with this guy may not be useful at all for that guy.  Whack-a-mole this game is not!  Which leads me too…

Action Combat:  I can see where the idea that this is the first true action MMO could come from.  All of your gameplay and strategy are forced to be fluid and ultimately three dimensional.  Healing takes on a whole new challenge when you have to be actively viewing your intended ally.  Many of the skills have components that are location based in a whole new way.  Its like growing up playing wargames on squares and hexes and then diving into the world of miniatures for the first time, where the only measure of distance is with a ruler and relative to the units actual location.  Same thing here.  There is the usual cone and AOE and so on, but the battle no long involves orienting oneself around a North-South pole of tank and mob.  Standing still will get you dead in a hurry.  Skills are important, but skill chains (which are conveniently activated player customizable) generate interesting tactics of their own.    And then there are the mobs, which come in big, medium, and small variety.  Its not unusual to have to face one or two normal sized mobs with a squad of smaller mobs in tow, both of which may be using different strategies.   This is where group combat really shines, allowing groups to tackle challenges and quests in a way that really does make the game better in a way beyond artificially tweaking the xp curve with, say, the size of the group.

Player friendly.  I talked with one person over the weekend, another MMO player, who was surprised I was even playing TERA.  The words “Korean grind-fest” were used.  If that is the reputation or rumor about TERA, it is unfounded.  The leveling time I encountered was part with most other  games I’ve played, like TOR and WoW and so on.  It may feel longer since it involves doing something other than mindlessly hitting the same five buttons in order over and over while chatting with your friends about the latest Jennifer Love Hewiit show over VOIP.  Call me crazy, but that’s a good thing in my book.   I am a casual MMO gamer in the sense of time invested, not in the sense that I want all my games to play out like the latest Zynga Facebook monstrosity.  Beyond that – lets talk about other things, like the fact that you not only have the usual “port home” skill on a timer, but a common mob drob is a “safe haven scroll” that drops you back at the nearest quest hub, and stacks in your inventory.  Or that flight points are unlocked by level and storyline, and not by whether or not you slogged cross-continent to get there.  Or that you get your first mount, with a 140% speed increase, for free, when you finish the introductory island (level 10-12).  Or that crafting and harvesting are not limited artificially but open to whatever you want to pursue.  Or that you can mark quest mobs on your map and on their nameplate so you can find them with no fuss, even that one boss guy you just got vague directions too.  Or that you not only have healing potions, but regeneration motes that drop from mobs, healing you and cutting down on down time between combats.  Or that campfires can be used (or build anywhere) that raise your stamina – boosting your basic levels of HP and MP up to 30% – and that those fires can have buffs added to them to just about every other statistic.  And that is above and beyond the usual doubling rate for “Rest XP.”  Quite honestly, I’m not sure what more they could have done to make the game *more* convenient.

Beautiful.  Yes, I’ll talk more about the overly sexy toons in a nother section.  But in general, the graphics on TERA are easily the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO.  And they are optimized to the hilt.  I can’t run TOR on anything other than minimal settings, and even then my PvP FPS is about 8.  Yet I have a computer that should be running that game easily.   Meanwhile, in TERA, my computer which doesn’t clear the recommended specs, can run it with great settings and amazing detail.    I played even in the middle of some dense player formations and never slowed down once.

Attention to detail is one of TERA's most admirable successes. Note that my female character is riding side saddle!

The Bad

Keyboard vs. Controller.   While I played just fine on a keyboard, coming up with some pretty interesting ways to chain skills and use my class to the fullest, I still can’t see how you would play a character at max level, with some 20+ unique skills to draw on, without a controller.  And that alone may be the only obstacle a lot of MMO players will find that turns them away.   Granted, most of us have a 360 or PS3 also floating in our house, and the items to connect the controller to our PC run a measly $10 (or sometimes less), the idea of playing with a controller may just seem to be foreign.  In fact, the whole action combat system itself calls for a change in they way people think about and approach MMO’s.    That may be the ultimate death knell of this game, or what resigns it to a niche location.   And let me say that while I understand this, it does not in fact bother me in the least.  My first MMO, EQOA (May It Rest In Peace) I played with both a keyboard *and* a controller…at the same time!   Its one of the few times I have utilized macros to the hilt, chaining warnings of adds and low health with roots and aggro decreases with glee.  In fact, while this will be a barrier to the general populace of MMO gaming, its got me wondering in truth if its not just what the doctor ordered for the genre.

Kill Stealing is Back!  Without a traditional targeting system, you run into some unique problems.  Like kill-stealing, which used to be dead.  Several times on the weekend I tossed off a basic ranged attack, only to see someone come blurring into the mob in a melee charge.   And then I knew I could walk away.  Because no matter what happened next, the AI was going to react (intelligently I might add) to the threat in front of it…and I was going to get the credit for that kill.   Tagging of the mob is active, but its hard to tell who is sizing up a battle when you don’t see a toon 20m away staring down said mob because they have them targeted.   Also, because the aggro system works a bit differently than Yellow/Red (with a rage mechanic and creatures that actively react to your presence, even when you are not acting threatening), this can happen entirely by accident.  And that’s not even taking into account what happens when you love playing a Sorcerer but can’t aim your fireballs worth a flying poo and you end up tagging some mob you had no intention of crossing wands with.  You can tell TERA has tried to address this somewhat because all the skill ranges are lower than the typical 30m you find in other MMO’s.  My standard magic missile attack for my Mystic had a range of about 18m, and that was my longest.    But I’m not sure that’s a solid solution to the problem.  I think it might be time to rethink the tagging process and how that works, at least for TERA.

The Ugly

The Character Models.  Yes, they are way too sexy.  You know things are bad when you breathe a sigh of relief that at least the outfits of the race that looks like 10 year old girls is *mostly* decent, if  a bit too much purple leopard print and 1960’s era Playboy Bunny outfits can be considered decent.  So in this case, decent is more relative to the fact that the opening outfit for female Elf/Castanic leather armor wearers looks like something out of a Wicked Weasel swimwear catalog (And no, I’m not going to link to it, and you should be fully prepared for what assails you should you decide to go looking for it, lol).   And it doesn’t get noticeably better when you get to metal armor either, with half the outfits looking like a full-lingerie version of the Everlast Chastity Belt from Men in Tights.   And speaking of men in tights…the boys be showing some skin too.  I couldn’t find a single male Elven/Castanic outfit that wasn’t bear chested.  Usually with a fur coat or some bondage equipment thrown on for good measure.   Stick in a few pandas to appeal to the WoW crowd, and you’re off!

Variety is the Spice of Life.  And you won’t find any in your gear or outfits.  When you create a character you get to preview how they would look in four different outfits of the armor type you wear (the first of the four is the actual starting outfit), and as far as I can tell from looking around at all the characters in the starting island and capital city – that may be the only four armor models available period.   And of course you are stuck with the one weapon your class is allowed to wield.  God forbid an Archer should have a sword or dagger for close in work, or a priest should ever wield a scepter instead of a staff.  But then, this tends to be an industry standard these days, so its more of a gripe than a deal breaker.  Now there is one notable exception to this…

While the storyline isn't as deep as, say TOR's, it is more in depth, and presented in greater detail, than a standard MMO like Rift's is. Not the conversation level camera lock in here to highlight that this is a storyline quest.

The Tilt

Glyphs and Crystals.  Even if you don’t have a lot of variety in your looks or available weapons, thanks to these two little gems (pun intended) you have a staggering amount of control over the statistics and ways you can influence your skill and weapons respectively.  Glyphs are like a more flexible and precise AA system – allowing you to add duration or power or crits or even extending the abilities of a particular skill.   Crystals have lots of very precise statistical benefits you can plug (and unplug at will) into your gear.  Not only can you put in something to boost your crit, you can have a standard boost, or sacrifice some utility for a bigger boost – say, a higher crit percentage than the normal crystal boost if it only works when your opponent is knocked down.  A straight up MP regen boost – or a bigger one limited to blows you land when behind your target?  These are great little ways to boost your ability to build and plan your character, without tying you down into one particular skill tree or even a handful of particular builds.

I had fun.  Ultimately, this is my biggest tilt in favor of the game.  I came into it knowing nothing other than it was an eastern import that was an “action mmo” and may require me to use a controller.   I ended up playing it almost exclusively over the weekend, despite the opening of the test server once again for WoT, and despite having a night when I could have played TOR instead.  I had fun to the point where I have TERA bookmarked on Amazon and am seriously considering purchasing it and paying the sub fee.   I can’t think of any recommendation greater than that to give you.

Conclusion

If you don’t think you will enjoy TERA, skip it…its pretty obvious what it is, and if that doesn’t appeal to you, don’t bother.  If however, it sounds interesting to you, if you want something a little more involved than the standard MMO, something a little different, then this may just be the shot of caffeine you’ve been looking for to wake up your MMO life.

The Game of Thrones Has A Hold On Me!

No, not the TV show, which I disliked (yes, I know…a quick informal survey of “everyone else” has already educated me that I was the only one that didn’t like it), or the book series, which I found well-written, but never quite hooked me in.  I mean the board game from Fantasy Flight.

Every six months or so I get a chance to sit down with some friends and family for a game night.  Last time it was the Mansion of Madness, and before that more Cthulhu goodness, and before that some Twilight Imperium.  As much as we enjoyed TI, it ended up being just too much for us to handle…too many  rules, too much time to finish in an evening.  We had looked for awhile at the Conan Board Game, but for one reason or another I never picked it up.

Enter my brother with thise Game of Thrones business.  It was like the third set of everything for Goldilocks as far as I’m concerned.  The time to play was – just right.  The complexity/ease of the rules was – just right.  The ability to maintain interest and attention was – just right.

We played a four player game with a small house rule that my brother had developed in previous play sessions elsewhere – we blocked off the ports and VP territories in the south end of the continent.  Otherwise the game takes a predictable path of the northern powers allying and running south before the southern powers can steamroll the NPC garrisons and claim victory without virtue of diplomacy or even meaningful battle.  That is the one and only weakness of the game as far as I could tell, though with six players the balance should not be an issue.  We also used the random deck for battles, just to add some spice to life, and I can’t imagine playing without it to be honest.  That extra element of uncertainty adds charm to the battles and to the selection of your commander card.

That's me in the lower right of the board (click to enlarge)

Which brings me to what I loved about it.  The random events are great, forcing players to think on their feet and forcing interaction and diplomacy at a basic level.  The battles themselves are fantastic.  The additional of leader cards to the standard “army strength” notion gives excellent flavor to the individual houses and creates an “ebb and flow” to the movement around the map.

In other words, the game has a nice balance of picking a strategy and requiring players to adapt on the fly to things outside their control.  At no time did I feel like the random events were too constricting – rather they often provided double edged opportunities.  And most of my strategy revolved not around knowing the rules like the back of my hand (or military power for that matter), but rather from playing my opponent directly – their motives and tendencies.

And perhaps it is that last part which makes the game so great.  In that, the game mirrors the book in a beautiful way.  A game of thrones indeed, and a worthy bearer of the name.

2011 Predictions Review

Yeah, I should have done this awhile ago, but I didn’t, so tough cookies.  Not that I predicted anything earth shattering last year for 2012 (get it?) but I had the usual mix of success and failure (last year I got 2 out of 5 correct).

 

1.  We will finally get some news about the World of Darkness MMO from CCP /White Wolf…lets add a part B  to this that reinforces my point – we won’t see a beta for this in 2011.

Not only was there absolutely no more information, the website I linked was not updated at all, and so we clearly did not see a beta for it either.  CCP’s struggles this year have been well documented.   As a gamer, former Atlanta resident, and guy who pulled every card he could trying to get in the door at White Wolf years and years ago, it saddens me to see that company down in the dirt, and its IP virtually untouched.  And its a huge loss for CCP, in a time when wizards and werewolves and vampires and such have never been more popular or mainstream.   I’m not surprised the MMO is not out, but I am shocked that no move has  been made to profit from the IP.  Heck, even a half lame Facebook game would have generated some revenue at this point.  +1 for me.

 

2.   2011 will show a decline in the number of WoW subscriptions.

On target.  A 2 million subber drop.  This was of course, part of a series of posts and thoughts that Cataclysm would be, not a giant failure, but simply the high water mark of the game.  And so far that has been very true.  +1 for me.

 

3.  Star Wars: The Old Republic will launch in April.

Missed it by a mile.  But we all knew that.  A month or so after writing this we got the unofficial word that TOR was definitely not delayed, since no release had ever been announced.  And the thread with the spring release date disappeared into the ether.  With all we know now, no amount of cash recoup by launching early would have saved the game if they had launched in April.  In fact, there’s good evidence that the game was nowhere close to being done at that point.  TOR has had a reasonably successful launch and (so far) first month, but its hard to shake the feeling that for a project in development for six years, with the resources they had at their fingertips, that it falls short of what it could have been.

 

4.  Vanguard will go F2P.  Okay, this is more of a hope than a prediction…I think that the addition of DCUO to the Station lineup will probably help make this possible.

You can maybe score this one as a halfway.  The success of DCUO’s transition to F2P, as well as EQII, have Sony clearly interested in investing a bit in Vanguard.  New updates are incoming, and the general feeling is that its only a matter of time before the game transitions.  But…it didn’t happen in 2011, so no love for me.

 

5.  Cryptic Studios will finally reveal what this is.  Because its copyright 2007, and it makes me itch.

Not only did they not reveal what it is, they basically went belly up and the concept art, and indeed the entire website, that the link pointed to last year, no longer exist.  I still believe it was a deal with Chaosium to produce an official Cthulhu MMO, for a number of reasons.  At this point though, its likely that we will never know.

 

So there you go, 2 out of 5 again.  I am nothing if not consistent…at least as far as my predictions are concerned.  On to the other 2011 thoughts I had:

My most anticipated release was a toss up between Rift and TOR.  I opted to pass on the Rift release, only for the one reason that I had played it so much in Beta that I was tuckered out.  I came into it a few months later and it became the first, and so far only, MMO that I have ever capped in.  Unless you count WoT.  TOR’s launch I was there for in the sense that I had a preorder and was in from day one.  But in truth, I have played precious little of it due to real life complications.  My highest character sits still at level 18.  So I guess it really was a toss up after all.

My least anticipated release was DCUO and that was pretty much true.  I am already 100% on board with what my least anticipated will be for next year too.  Seems I have a keener eye for what I don’t like than what I do like.  But you may have already noticed that about me.

My most desired Beta was TOR.  I got in, but so late in the process I really hate to count it as being in Beta.  :-p

My most desired industry change was to create something between F2P and $15 a month.   Thought there have been some nice transitions in the last year, I’m still waiting for that change.  The truth is that most of the F2P models leave out the part of the game that would make it fun for me (ability to have alts, housing, flexibility in character building) and so I never explore the F2P option, so they never have a chance to sell me on other things.  As successful as F2P has been…it missed the boat somewhere along the line.

 

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at 2012 and what is to come.

FFXIV Beta!

It makes me happy in an evil way when I think of all the slavering Final Fantasy fanpeople who find this page via some random suggestion or Google, only to get nothing but the above picture.  Not that I’m anti-Final Fantasy.  I love Final Fantasy.  So much so that I’ve spent insane chuncks of time helping out with playtest, design, and actual playtime in what I consider (humbly of course) to be the best PnP RPG available for it.

But to create an FF MMO you have to utilize LCD planning (lowest common denominator).   That is, you have to appeal to what the largest portion of your fanbase wants.  Unfortunately, I’m not the average Final Fantasy fan, and as a result, most of what gets included in the MMO’s (XI and now this one) is the parts of FF that I’m either not all that interested in, or just plain don’t like.

The “Armory System” is a great example.  The best Final Fantasy games have been the ones that allowed you to explore multiple classes and mix and match options  (FFV, FFVI, FF Tactics) or at least let you design your own main character (FFI).   (You know, like RPG’s are supposed to do.  But I digress.) On the surface, FFXIV lets you do that.  But it funnels and channels you into a system thats even more restrictive than your standard MMO.   In any other MMO, my mage can use a staff, a wand, a dagger, etc.  Here I can use (most of) those things, but they limit what types of magic I can use as a result.

Let’s recite one of the (my?) golden rules of game design:

Giving players less options is never a good thing.  It is a step backwards, not step forwards.

Don’t believe me?  Ask the makers of Alganon, Warhammer Online, Might & Magic IX , Dungeons & Dragons 4E, Warlords IV, Command & Conquer 4…