Monthly Archives: October 2010

Champions Online Free to Play…

Free To Try....meh.

I can’t say I’m entirely suprised.

I also can’t say I’m terribly interested. I got the email in my Inbox this morning, chuckled because Champions Online going Free To Try is actually happening a lot later than I expected, and promptly deleted the email. The chances of me re-installing the game are pretty slim; it didn’t have much to offer me when I first tried it, and from what I’ve seen from the occasional news update, it doesn’t have a whole lot new.

This is one case where I don’t think going the “DDO route” is going to pay off. I subbed to CO when it launched, buying a 6 month subscription entirely for the chance to try Star Trek Online during the beta. I didn’t make it 6 days in the game before I lost all interest.

The one thing I have to wonder – what does this mean for Star Trek Online?

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Nothing Brings ‘Em Runnin…

...like a good party!

I have to say that I am extremely impressed with the Fall Festival in LotRO this year. Not only has Turbine released what I consider to be the best festival content to date, but the crop of new players coming in with Free To Play has really increased the energy, and activity, around the festival areas. It’s really nice to see (sure, I’ve seen stupid MMO-leet-speak in Regional chat for maybe the first time, but that’s minor compared to the shot of adrenaline the Vilya community seems to have received).

The Haunted Burrow is, quite plainly, approaching genius. One, it’s about time that the Shire got it’s own Festival content; Duillond has its shrew-infested garden and Bree has its Hedge Maze. Two, it’s refreshing to have something to do in the game that is pure fun. It’s an amazing contrast from the Mirkwood areas with their dark, foreboding, and war-torn atmosphere. Not that Mirkwood is bad, but the festival this year comes at a perfect time and has the perfect measure of irreverence and silliness about it.

There’s one downside, however. Well, not so much of a downside as a decision Turbine made that has got me (and a lot of players) into a frothing frenzy. The Skeleton Horse.

So...pretty...

Must. HAVE.

First and foremost, the thing is amazingly cool-looking. Secondly, I have a thing about mounts; it has long been my goal to achieve every mount in the game (as well as fully complete several others types of “achievements”) with my main. Funny thing is, I’m not even sure I would make it my main mount. But seeing it, I immediately thought, “I must have that…” Trouble is, obtaining it doesn’t seem to be a matter of effort, but of sheer luck. And I’m not generally a “lucky” person. In order to obtain this mount, players must be fortunate enough to obtain an item that is a rare drop. From a chest that can only be opened once every 24 hours.

This means I only have 30-something chances to get my hands on this item. Two things that make me very nervous about Turbine’s decision. One, personal effort has little to no bearing. Players could log in like clockwork, every day during the festival to check the chest, and never receive the mount. That’s a lot of effort with no return, leading (potentially) to a lot of frustrated players. Two, if I am lucky enough to get one, seeing these available in the Store at some point in the future would be a huge slap in the face to everyone who worked hard and got lucky.

Hopefully Turbine has considered these points, and designed it appropriately. My hope is that, as much as the item is a rare drop, that player effort has some bearing on the chances of receiving the mount. Even an increase of a few percentage points in the chance, for those who log in every day and try, would be very much appreciated.

 

Losing Patience

A lot of little, and not so little, things going on this past week or so that have really tested my patience, and shown me how little I possess. At least, when it comes to certain subjects.

Pain is the biggest (at the moment). I won’t claim to have a particularly high threshold for pain, though I have experienced enough to say I’m no lightweight (and have enough ink in particularly sensitive places to prove it). However, I’m not particularly good at constant, lasting pain. Minor surgery earlier this week has driven this fact home.

The positive side of having had this particular procedure is that I was told, by men in white coats who have authority to do so, that I would need to be off my feet for at least two days. And I could not lift anything heavy or do any strenuous work for at least a week. Talk about a free pass to game for a few days solid! Even the Missus couldn’t argue. The prospect of unrestricted gaming for a day or two definitely took the sting out of needing surgery (pun intended…sorry).

I had thought a day or two with LotRO would be great for catching up on some deeds and finally working my way into Enedwaith. Sadly, this was just not meant to be. A pattern seems to be arising in my time with LotRO; I have the motivation and the desire, but too often “other things” get in the way.

The easiest to address is a recent rash of computer issues I’ve been having. I’ve built my own machines for many, many years. No longer. I’m at an age and an income (and have a family with young kids) where the fun has gone out of tinkering. I have neither the time, nor the patience for this kind of nonsense. A warranty sounds mighty fine about now. Plus, a company such as CyberPowerPC will sell me a box with all the hardware I could need, including liquid cooling and overclocking if I want it, already assembled and with a warranty. No operating system, no monitor or peripherals (I already have those!). Sounds perfect.

However, as I don’t have the funds to purchase an entirely new machine, I’m stuck fixing what I do have. The technology gods must have been too kind to me in the past, because I’ve had several issues arise all at once, including bad RAM leading to frequent but random crashes (RMA for that one), my secondary hard drive completely died (and with it every install of every game I play), and last but certainly not least – I killed my motherboard yesterday trying to upgrade the BIOS. Another RMA for my stupidity. The good times keep on rolling.

All I can say is I’m thankful for Roku and Netflix, or I would be back at work despite the doctor’s orders.

But more than the hardware problems, I’ve found myself playing a lot of FPSs (First Person Shooters) more over the past few weeks. There’s something about the immediacy of the gameplay that has been very appealing recently. It’s active, energetic, often frantic, and constantly engages me in a way that MMOs haven’t. It’s immediate gratification; a lot of the reason Vindictus was so appealing at first (until it started giving me migraines, that is). I love the strategy and skill necessary for LotRO, but I find I’m losing patience with the pace, and an FPS is the perfect remedy.

I revisited Half Life and Half Life 2 for repeat playthroughs, and finally sat down and played some Borderlands (which I’ve owned for a long time but never bothered to install). I never gave Borderlands a fair shake when it was released, and I can say now that I regret it.

The issue was that my first experience of the game was on my sister’s Playstation, which is not my native platform and on which, I am still convinced, shooters are horrible. Give me a mouse and keyboard or give me death (which happens to me a lot in console shooters). It’s just not the natural way to play these games. Additionally, I think the game has a somewhat punishing starter area, the Arid Badlands. If you can’t play through that area in a sitting or two, the respawns make it incredibly annoying. And until you get a good class mod (preferably with ammo regeneration) and a good shield, the game is actually quite challenging to the point of slightly frustrating. The challenge doesn’t drop off after this, it just changes in how the player is challenged. It shifts from a resource management/scrounging challenge to a strategic attacks/überlewts challenge. I prefer the latter.

Borderlands is a franchise just begging for the MMO treatment (by which I mean an open world more than the current multiplayer). Considering that Gearbox appears to have borrowed from some standard MMORPG mechanics – quests and quest hubs, crazy variations of loot drops, and a basic RPG skill system – it would only take a few tweaks to make this a serious contender as an MMO. Things like open world multiplayer, full gear customization (beyond just a player’s weapons), and a bit more depth on the character building would be a great start. Also, a ton of work to fully flesh out the world – it’s big, but it would need to be much bigger. They even have vehicles and fast travel already built. They’ve shown they can deliver story. And I seem to remember something about procedural generation of monsters, or something like that. Give us an in-game mail system and an auction house and they’d be launching with more than some “AAA” MMOs that have launched recently (I’m looking at you, Square Enix…).

If Gearbox were to launch a Borderlands MMO, I’d put down some serious money to play it. The action is non-stop and the gameplay is top tier. I love the visuals. And the game is hilarious! It’s been too long since I’ve truly laughed while playing a game; we take ourselves too seriously sometimes. Tolkien is great for epic drama, and Turbine has even worked in a good amount of humor (considering the source material), but they get a chuckle at most. Gearbox had me nearly in tears at a few points, though that could be the painkillers as much as the game itself.

Victim of My Style

FYI: This is not me...(honestly, this guy is way ahead of me).

Having spent the week in Toronto for work-related training, I’m just now catching up on all of the inevitable crises that took place in my absence. While I enjoy traveling (when I can drive to my destination) and this particular trip was of great value to me in my current profession, the aftermath almost always makes it more of a hassle than it’s really worth. Even with a laptop and remote access to nearly everything I need to do my job, so much of what I do from day to day requires a physical presence. Ironic considering I work in a field notorious for disconnecting themselves from ‘meatspace’. Also, by the end of a full day of technical training, the last thing I want to do is more work. I just don’t have it in me.

So to take the edge off being away from my family, I take advantage of my solo status and generally devote as many off-hours as possible to gaming. I know, lame excuse for binging on LotRO, but it’s all I’ve got, and as I’m required to be away, I might as well make the most of it. As I lack a decent gaming laptop, I tend to stick to my alts; I’ve already experienced 99% of the content and have “seen the sights” in the highest quality I can, so it’s really about the mechanics of the class.

I was determined to really buckle down and make some progress on characters I’ve left lingering in the mid 20s and 30s. Just a few months ago, I was lamenting a complete and utter lack of motivation to level my alts because, knowing where I was headed, I just couldn’t bring myself to grind up to, and then through, the content. I figured this ennui was a symptom of Moria-overload and of the deed and reputation grinds; having done them once I really don’t want to do them again (come on Turbine, where are my account-based deeds?).

Trouble is, Turbine has done part of their job too well. Playing some of the classes can be a vastly different experience and makes good portions of the content “new” just by virtue of running through it again with a second (or third) class. And I truly enjoy some of the other classes. Hunter, Minstrel, and Warden are my top three second-string classes and I find them truly fun and refreshing to play. Burglars will always be my one, true love, but one cannot live on lembas alone. And I’d really like to see some of the endgame with a class other than my main.

So I figured I’d take one on the nose, dive right in, and get to leveling. I determined that I wanted to get two of my alts to 40 during my time away, and as two of them were already in their mid-30s, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right?

Wrong. But not for the reasons I thought.

All this time I thought it was something about LotRO that kept me away from my alts, when the truth is – <cue dramatic revelation music> – it’s me. Well, partly me. More me than I had originally thought. Honestly, no matter how you look at it, it comes down to my tastes and preferences, both in how I play LotRO and in the fact that I choose to play other games from time to time, that keep me from playing enough to level multiple characters to the cap. I liked Moria well enough, but I didn’t like it enough to want to revisit. There are plenty of players who still enjoy Moria (I think…). Sure, there are aspects of the game that I have trouble stomaching (slayer deeds and reputation grinding), but overall Turbine built their game and created their content and put it out there for customers to purchase and enjoy, or not. And I do enjoy it, and give them my money for it; but I enjoy other games as well.

I say this because not only did I fail to level my two alts to 40, I failed to level one past 38. Instead of burning through quests with my Hunter, I found myself finishing out exploration deeds and taking the time, again, to read quest text and harvest resource nodes and, yes, finish slayer deeds. For shame!

What I learned is that it’s not entirely that Turbine has created a game that makes it impossible for me to have alts. Rather it’s my playstyle that prevents me from maintaining multiple characters at the level cap. Realistically, it barely allows me to keep one at the level cap. I’m a Completionist and a Sightseer; these are not habits conducive to quickly consuming content. Even using Syp’s technique for selecting virtues in advance and only completing the deeds that grant those bonuses didn’t keep me from trying to get everything done in Evendim, where I spent the bulk of my time.

Not that there isn’t room for Turbine to improve, especially in the grind-one-monster-into-extinction department, but with the move to Free To Try, what’s the chance of them eliminating any grind? Not much. So I’ve realized I owe Turbine an apology.

Sorry, Turbine. It’s not you (not really). It’s me.