Tuesday, May 28, 2013

There's Klingons on the Starboard Bow, Starboard Bow, Starboard Bow

McCoy:  Go?  Where are we going?
Kirk:  [gestures at the console] Where they went.
[Saavik punches in the coordinates to the transporter console and steps onto the pad]
McCoy:  What if they went nowhere?
Kirk:  Then this will be your big chance to get away from it all.
--from Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan

This is an overdue post, since I'd been playing the game for well over six months now, but I thought I'd use a quote from The Original Series movies to sum up my feelings of Star Trek Online.

When you think that you've got the MMO style down pat, a game throws you for a bit of a curve.  STO is definitely not the same MMO that you're used to seeing.  Oh, there's a toon that is the center of your universe --whether it be Federation, Klingon, or Romulan*-- but the gameplay is a bit different than the standard theme park MMOs out there.

For starters, there's your starship.  Yes, you get to captain your own starship, and judging by the plethora of starships that hang around the Sol Starbase, the starship you pilot is the e-peen of STO.  to be honest, I felt pretty humbled in my tiny Centaur Class starter ship being surrounded by all of these other ships.

Unlike The Old Republic, your starship is integral to the game.  In fact, you could say that's the difference between the two games in a nutshell:  The Old Republic is a Space Opera about you as a character, while Star Trek Online is about you as a starship captain.

STO is set in the Next Gen universe, and the Romulans home planet of Romulus has exploded.  (Sound familiar to you reboot fans?)  The Klingon Empire decided it was time for a land grab** and broke its alliance with the Federation to expand its territory.  Therefore, the stage was set for two factions:  Federation and Klingon.  STO added the Romulan faction within the past few weeks to spice things up, but I think it's too early to tell how things are going.

The Federation's intro questline starts you off with needing to beam down to a planet's surface to save some colonists from the Borg.  (What, you thought they weren't going to be here?)  You're introduced to movement and fighting as a leader of an away team, and then you're beamed back onto the ship where the captain didn't survive an attack.  You're in charge, so you learn a bit about how your ship moves, interacts, and attacks/defends in space while teaming up with a lot of other ships to beat off the Borg.

Now, that all sounds like pretty standard MMO fare, but things begin to deviate a bit when you report in to Starfleet.  You're given command of your first ship and you have your first officer as a member of your staff, but you quickly find out that quests are designed differently in STO than the traditional theme park model.  The standard model is to daisy chain a series of quests together, forming a questline, but in STO a single quest may or may not spawn subquests --which are required, which is different than the Bonus quests in TOR-- and the single quest itself is in reality several quests all wrapped together.  STO pretty much eliminated the quest turn-in format by going with one long quest instead.

And that's just the format.

There are several different types of STO quests:  the straight ahead "talk to someone and acquire a quest" variety, the "Admiral hails you and assigns you a quest" type, the random "world boss" incursion type (like, say, the Borg popped up in a region of space and all ships available in the quadrant are summoned to fight them off), the PvP variety (which appears when you get close to a PvP area), and "explore strange new worlds" variety, which you're never sure what you're going to get.

That last quest type is a new idea, and it caters to the Star Trek universe.

As any old time trekkie will tell you, the whole point of the Enterprise being out there was to explore uncharted space.  There are specific regions in the galactic map where a player can go and investigate various anomalies out in space.***  Sometimes these anomalies yield planets and other adventures, sometimes they're pretty mundane.  At first I thought these areas were like the materials rich areas in Age of Conan, but I quickly learned that you can have plenty of adventures exploring.  Oh, and some of those adventures can last as long as, say, a full clear of Stratholme in WoW.

A lot of quests will strictly be limited to you interacting with things on your starship, but other ones will have you beaming down as head of an away team of up to five people.  Your officers will accompany you if you want them to, but any extra slots are filled with the traditional Red Shirt cannon fodder.  By the way, you can equip your officers with good equipment too, much like the companions in TOR.****

Fights, encounters, and other interactions with the world will yield skill points, and you train by turning in those skill points for better skill rankings.  Yes, you do have levels too, and that governs your rank and what ships you can captain (and what skills you can train), but skill training itself is vitally important.  Make sure you train as much as you can.

As a starship captain, you also have to take care of your crew.  While you don't have companion stories like you do in TOR --the difference in focus between the two MMOs again-- you train your crew, make sure they are properly geared, and when the time comes, you can promote them too.  I presume at some point they may leave your ship, and if that happens you have other officer candidates to choose from.*****

This only scratches the surface of the game itself, because it can be as complex as you want it to be.  Sure, when a fight is happening you turn into a button masher, but the rest of the game is pretty expansive.

The game is very true to the Star Trek universe, and for those trekkies who want to play around in an MMO, STO is very much built for them.  Yes, I'd have preferred TOS myself, but going with Next Gen made sense because more people are used to the Next Gen universe.  There's also that little matter of TOS being boxed in the timeline by both ST:E and Next Gen, so if STO wants to expand the Trek universe, it can by going with Next Gen.

The space graphics are great, and the planetary graphics are good too --on a par with TOR-- but the toon facial graphics are, well, very similar.  The faces all have a similar, distinctive look, and while it's not bad per se, that sameness can get to you after a while.  And I also have to admit that I expect my crew to come and talk to me from time to time, but this isn't TOR.

STO's biggest positive is that it remains true to the Trek universe but allows you inside to feel like you're really a part of your faction.  The Leonard Nimoy vocal commentary is a big win too.

It's yet another F2P offering out there, and one worth a look if you want to scratch that Star Trek itch.

*Romulans are a brand new third faction to the STO MMO.  I haven't made a Romulan character yet, so I can't say much more than that.  However, you can't miss all the Romulan ships out and about in space.

**Or whatever you'd call it in space.  Territory grab sounds so.... sanitized.

***Examining anomalies themselves is like farming mats in most other MMOs, but with a twist.  You're given a set amount of time to match the waveform that pops up on screen, and if you do you get bonus materials.  You can in turn use those materials to craft items.  There's an entire questline associated with Memory Alpha to learn how to craft items.

****Both you and your officers can train as well, and you'd better take advantage of that opportunity as much as you can.

*****I haven't gotten that far enough in the game to find out, but for the character that I expect to leave for her own command I've already got her replacement in the pipeline.  (EtA:  This doesn't happen unless you dismiss your officers.  See the comment below.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Where Did I Put Those Training Wheels?

I have PvP on my brain.


After having spent the past two weeks running Battlegrounds (or doing questing in various MMOs), I queued for a Old Republic flashpoint.  Since I'd leveled my first toon strictly via questing and the occasional heroic, I've been taking some time on these alts to explore the different flashpoints in the game.  Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but since I'd been playing a Rogue for such a straight stretch, I had to change my expectations.

Unfortunately, I didn't change them enough.

I got into the Collicoid War Game flashpoint, which was new to me, and I ended up spending part of the first phase of the game as a keyboard turner.  For some reason my brain thought move = both mouse buttons, whereas on the turret it is move = right mouse button.  When I kept hitting both mouse buttons, I kept getting kicked out of the turret.  That was very nearly a disaster, as the collicoids closed to a dangerous level before I finally started blasting them to pieces.

Okay, that was a new flashpoint mistake.  I could deal with that.

But what I couldn't deal with was that I kept pulling aggro.

I mean, I'm not on my glass cannon gunslinger, merely my Commando running DPS.  I've finally got a rotation down for the Hutt expac changes, but I know that Commandos don't hit quite that hard.  The only thing I could figure was that I was being too efficient with my rotation, which is an artifact of PvP.  You know, the "OMG! OMG!  Quick-quick-quick-hurry-hurry-hurry gotta-DPS-this-Druid-down-before-he-heals-and.....  OH NO A LOCK!  Dump the DoTs and Vanish!!  Hurry Hurry Hurry!"

Yeah, right.  You try doing that in Eye of the Storm.

Spacing out my rotation helped, but it didn't really prepare me for the puzzle part of the flashpoint.  "Over here!" became my name, synonymous with "Over here, Ki!" and "Ki!  Not there, here!  To my right!"  Of course, I had no idea which toon was saying that until I clicked to find the right one.  And then, on the last fight which was a boss fight transforming into another boss fight (think the middle boss transitioning into The Black Knight in Trial of the Champion and you've got the idea), everybody was frantically telling me to move to the middle.

What for, I wondered as I ran up.

Then, WHAM!  The last droid boss dropped in.

Oh.  That's why.

Still, nobody died due to my klutziness.  Except me, who moved over to try to push an elite off a platform and ended up getting blasted off myself.  "Those droids do that," the tank said as I respawned back at the beginning.  

"I noticed that."

By the end of the flashpoint I'd slowed down my rotation enough that I didn't pull aggro* from the rest of the bosses.  But I think I need to do a bit more PvE group content to balance out this PvP attitude I've got going.

Okay, one more and then I shut it down for the night.

*Except for my very first shot at the final boss, which I'd deliberately waited before dropping a Grav Round on it, and of course the boss turns and smacks me.  "Oh, for pete's sake, I only hit it once!" I said in party chat, which elicited laughter.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Love the Smell of Gyrocopters in the Morning...

At the end of an Isle of Conquest battleground, my Rogue dinged 85.  I looked around the entrance to Uldum, decided there was no reason to stick around, and I went back to Stormwind to begin my expedition to the Orient Pandaria.

Having ignored most of the Beta and being baffled by most people's commentary on their own blogs (Mogu, Schmogu), I figured I was going in as blind as you could be without actually being a complete noob to WoW.  Also, I decided this would be a good duplication of my previous attempt in Cataclysm, the "Convoy to L85"*, but with my iL at 280 I assumed this would be a bit rougher of a transition.**

I flew up to the Skyfire, landed, and we were off.

About five minutes into the intro questline, I had one overwhelming thought:  why are we still playing WoW with swords and axes and bows?  WoW has gone full steampunk with Mists, and the old paradigm has become obsolete.  It's so steampunk, both gyrocopter sequences --the one you pilot as well as the one where you tag certain places in the Horde stronghold for air strikes-- felt like something out of Apocalypse Now.

Throughout the entire SI:7 portion of Jade Forest, the comparisons with Vietnam grew stronger, with the Alliance and Horde's arming of the indigenous populations echoing the Soviets and U.S. arming the Vietnamese.***

And then, things just collapsed.

We were back to the traditional WoW environment of kill ten rats, sly names with a nod to popular culture, and quest writing similar to any other expac.  It's almost as if Blizzard went up to the edge, looked over the precipice, and decided to play it safe and go back to the tried and true.  With the exception of the graphics and voice actors, if you were to drop the Pandaria quests into another expac you'd not tell the difference.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense:  WoW is what it is, and putting an Asian veneer over it isn't going to change the core of the game.  Just like how I could tell Aion was Korean in origin by the quest text****, I could tell that this was WoW by the quest text.

Still, my first observation stands:  why are we using bows and swords and axes in a game that has become dominated by "magic tech" and steampunk?  I can understand a Rogue's use of daggers in an assassin's role, but the Paladin, Warrior, and Hunter seem obsolete in the tech that you see in WoW.  The magic oriented classes --Druid, Shaman, Priest, Warlock, and Mage-- have more utility in the New WoW Order than the melee based classes.

From a historical perspective, once one group makes a major technological leap in warfare, other groups quickly follow suit or they get steamrolled over.  When the musket was introduced and the concept of interchangeable parts introduced, all of the major powers of the day almost instantly switched to this new tech.  Blizzard went in this direction with the entire opening and SI:7 sequences, yet pulled back from the obvious conclusion of modifying the classes to accommodate new arms and tactics.  Yes, the game would have been radically changed forever had they gone through with those sort of changes, but it remains that Blizzard seems to have wanted the flash and bang of the new stuff without the natural conclusion that those changes would have wrought.

Unless, of course, Titan is really WoW Steampunk.

*Use the label to find the old posts on that adventure; I examined the transition from Wrath to Cata as a pair of fresh L80s --Neve and Tomakan-- without the benefit of having run a single Wrath raid or heroic instance.  For fun, I added Q into the mix just to compare the difference in Hyjal from someone with T10 gear vs. Wrath greens.

**Oh, I guess you're curious how my severely undergeared Rogue handled the intro zones.  It was much slower going than the transition to Cata, and the first boss, Ga'trul, proved to be a true gear check.  I'd be doing well enough until he converted to Sha form, and then I'd end up wiping.  In the end I had to go back and blow some of my Honor and Justice points to get enough gear to allow me to knock that warlock out.  Once I got past Ga'trul, however, the road was much smoother than I expected.

***You could also insert any Nineteenth Century European power here, particularly during colonial expansion.

****If there's one thing that makes me hesitate about Guild Wars 2, it's that I didn't like the tone of the quest text from Aion.  If the same company, NCSoft, makes both games, it stands to reason that I won't like feel of GW2 as well.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Few Newsflashes

I was writing something else but here are a few pieces of news from around the Blogosphere:

  • The Old Republic has 1.7 million new accounts since they went F2P.  Subs are steady at 550 thousand or so, but profits are up for the game.
  • WoW lost 1.3 million subs since Q4 2012.  The bleeding has been most prevalent in Asia, but all regions lost subs.
  • RIFT just announced it's going F2P.  Not sure about the details yet, but they are going F2P June 12th.
  • Neverwinter has generated a huge amount of interest, but you knew that, right?

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Hardest Thing.....

I figured I'd end this Friday with a few musings on MMOs, all beginning with the words "The hardest thing..."

Feel free to add your own!


The hardest thing about playing a Rogue is learning when not to do anything.  If you're used to playing a tank or DPS who rushes into the fray, a Rogue is a huge change of pace.  You can't simply jump in, because you're too squishy.  Everybody knows you can do monster damage on a single hit, so they all gang up on you.  You sometimes have to wait, let the mob go by, and then catch the lone person left behind.


The hardest thing about playing on the Sith Empire side is that it messes with your morals.  Like the agent on Balmorra who wants you to set up IEDs to deliberately kill children.


The hardest thing about playing the new Neverwinter MMO is that I feel I should be using a gamepad.  (More on that in another post.)


The hardest thing about playing LOTRO is the UI.  I don't know why, but the screen buttons and whatnot just feel so.... busy.


The hardest thing I've ever done in an MMO is tank.  Trusting somebody to keep you upright is not easy, particularly when you've seen a lot of bad pugs.


The hardest thing in a battleground seems to be getting that last 2% of health on that enemy you're fighting down to zero.  I swear, if I had a dollar for each time I came thisclose to finishing someone off and they still managed to escape....


The hardest thing about playing a mage is resisting the urge to run in and blast everyone with a Cone of Cold.


The hardest thing about playing Age of Conan is realizing that mobs are much tougher than you find in other MMOs.  Usually you remember this after they ganged up on you and you're back at the graveyard.


The hardest thing about Star Trek Online is that all of the NPCs --your crew and others-- all seem to look alike.  They have the same general look in the eyes and mouth, and after a while they all start to blend together.


The hardest thing about trade chat is resisting the urge to reach through the computer screen and headbutting the idiot who just said a racist/sexist/disgusting thing for the tenth time.


The hardest thing about Mists of Pandaria has to be hearing for the five thousandth time "Oh, you mean this is just like Kung Fu Panda!"  

Although seeing the four hundredth permutation of "Po" or "Kung Fu" or "PooPoo Platter" as a toon's name comes close.


The hardest thing about watching my kids play MMOs is resisting the urge to toss them out of the chair and "help".  They don't need my help, and if I keep telling myself that, I'll finally start to believe it.


The hardest thing about MMO blogging is that I always --and I do mean always-- find a grammatical or factual error right after I press Publish.  The author Michelle Sagara once said in a post of her own that she has the same problem, so I don't feel too bad.  But still, it is annoying.


The hardest thing about guilds is watching them implode, and realizing there's nothing you can do about it.


The hardest thing about WoW mounts is that damn White Polar Bear mount.  I still haven't gotten that sucker to drop.


The hardest thing about MMO friends is that there's never enough time to merely hang with them.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Did Somebody Get the License of that Truck?

I'd thought the L75-L79 BG range was the worst for leveling via BGs.  The Cata gear entering in at L77-L78 skewed the BG fairly heavily toward the top end of the BG, even more so than the average leveling BG due to the compressed nature of an entire expac to five levels.  Having gone through that range twice now, once with a Lock in Cata and now on my Rogue in Mists, I figured I knew what I was talking about.

Seems that I was wrong.

When my Rogue hit L80 and entered into this BG field, with Blizz's internal adjustments my health was about 52-53k.  I saw L84s with 84-90k health, and figured it wasn't too bad all things considering.  I knew I'd have to run through either Vashj'ir or Hyjal to get enough Cata gear to compensate for losing most of my old Wrath and BoA gear*, although I had enough Honor farmed to get some good L270 PvP gear.

Things just looked better than the L75-L79 range, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Mists was in sight.

The first few battlegrounds I got into --Isle of Conquest, Eye of the Storm, and Warsong Gulch-- I was able to contribute to.  I wasn't a terror out there, as I wasn't high enough level or had enough gear, but I held my own and wasn't a drag on the teams.  Well, let's be realistic here:  Children's Week bringing in a lot of unskilled PvPers helped me considerably.

Then came last night.

I was in an IoC battleground, and we'd quickly stormed the Horde Keep.  I and two other people held back to defend the Keep while the rest went after Overlord Agmar.  A lone Warlock showed up and gave battle, which even though Locks are much improved over the Cata version**, a Hunter, Druid and Rogue (me) should have no trouble dispatching him.

He blew through us in 20 seconds.

"What the hell was that?" I asked as we were waiting by the Spirit Guide.

"Did you see him?" the Druid added as we ran back to the Keep.  "He had 180k health!"

"All I knew is that he one-shotted me and I had 66k!"

We made it back to the Keep and were joined by two more toons.  It didn't help, as it took the Lock a mere 25 seconds to dispatch us all.

"Skip D-ing the Horde Keep," a DK said.  "Just run in and kill the boss!"

"No kidding," I grumbled.  "The Lock is more powerful than the boss!"

Needless to say, the Lock all by himself managed to win IoC for the Horde.

I was still shaking my head over this when I got into an Arathi Basin run.  While the Horde didn't have a 180k health Lock roaming around, they had about half of their team over 100k.

"This is ridiculous," a DK said.  "I might be able to take on one of them, but not a whole side.  Just go ahead and let them 5 cap so we can get this over with."

"So Blizz didn't close that loophole in the gear that they started with Cata?"

"No, they didn't.  What makes it worse is that while they can't queue up for it, a toon can be invited into a group running a Mists dungeon so they can get Mists blue gear.  You've got guilds running their twinks through multiple runs just to get tricked out."

"And I thought L75-79 was bad.  At least I didn't get one-shotted there."

"Yeah, the gear inflation isn't linear between Wrath Cata and MoP."

Well, it looks like my prediction about the BG issues back in Cata has come to pass in Mists.  If Blizz isn't going to allow toons to migrate straight to Cata and Mists from L78 and L83 respectively, they ought to move the low end Cata and Mists gear to a requirement of L80 and L85.  While the gear discrepancy is bad enough between Wrath and Cata, the non-linear nature of gear inflation has made it progressively worse between Cata and Mists.  And while Blizz attempted to level things out a bit by raising the health level of the new L80s in battlegrounds, the L84s with access to blue Mists gear far outstrip any manual intervention Blizz accomplished.

I'm not going to hold my breath on any corrections any time soon, because this is the second expac that Blizz has let this go; obviously, they gain more by leaving things as they were than actually fixing this discrepancy.  But from where I sit, this is just as bad as how weak Warlocks were in Cata.  And we know how Blizz addressed that, don't we?

*I ended up with two Toxidunk Daggers due to the generosity of a fellow Rogue on the Ysera server, who saw I was at L78 and in AV at the time.  The Rogue didn't want any gold, he just wanted to give the daggers to someone who was going to use them in BGs.  Who said that Rogues were disreputable people, anyway? ;-)

**Apologies to Cynwise, but I felt like an old man griping that "I leveled a Lock via BGs when it was HARD, back in Cata, and all these young whippersnappers don't know what it's like to be Rogue chow!"

Friday, May 3, 2013

...And Next on the Runway....

"Oh, I love your outfit!"

This announcement was made by a Bounty Hunter in the Cademimu flashpoint, right as we were buffing up.

"Who?" the other Bounty Hunter asked.

"Both you and Sree.  I love how you both look!"

I blinked.  I'm no fashion maven like Rades or Kamalia, as my rules for toon appearance can be boiled down to three words:  "no clown gear".*  My Inquisitor looked like a proper Sith in her hood and chest gear.  A bit plain, perhaps, but since I was still gearing up I didn't have much more than the chest and leg orange gear at the time.  I deliberately turned off the helm view, because I'm not in the mood of staring at a Jason or Scream lookalike for hours at a time.

The second Bounty Hunter spun around, showing off her gear.  "Thanks a lot!" she said.

"Thanks!" I added.

I considered that a unique situation until the other day, when I was getting ready for Warsong Gulch.  While skimming the team lists, I heard a telltale whisper sound.

"Nice mogging job," someone had pinged me.

I blinked.  Again.  "It's not mogged," I replied.  "It's all current gear."

"Really?  I'll inspect you and take some notes."

While I'm sure that I've been inspected before, it felt vaguely voyeuristic that someone wanted to see what my gear was for fashion purposes.

Maybe I ought to avoid Goldshire for a while until this whole fashion thing blows over.

*For example, I still think that Q's T9 Liadrin gear looked the best on him, even if it looked like a generic knight in shining armor.  To me, it just looked functional and cool.