WoW Really Needs To Work On First Impressions

I recently pondered if World of Warcraft was worth starting in 2018. I even sent a cut-down version of that post to the Massively OP podcast to get their opinions on the subject. Finally, I decided to give the free-up-to-20 experience a try. I had done this a while back and wasn’t impressed, but it was with a friend who was rather disenchanted with everything that had changed in his absence, so maybe I just needed to get to know the game on my own?

Sadly, my original impression was confirmed; the low-level game is just kind of terrible. I chose the monk because it sounded interesting to me (and it’s one of the newer classes, so probably a more refined design, right?), I’m dumped into the world with a single skill on my bar, which is a Chi builder that costs slowly-regenerating power to use–that’s fine, I’m comfortable with builder-and-spender class designs–but I’m basically just stuck auto-attacking until my power bar refills, when I can do another low-damage builder skill with nothing to spend it on. That’s… probably just for level 1, right? I’ll get enough skills for a basic rotation in the next couple of levels? Well, at level 3 I get my first spender. Still not enough to build and spend without auto attacking in between. Well, surely this will be remedied soon. So at level five I get… a roll? It literally just makes you roll forward, dealing no damage, and it doesn’t even stop at a target for use as a gap closer. I’m sure there are times when this comes in handy. I can’t imagine what they are, other than getting places slightly faster before I get a mount, but I’m sure it has a purpose. But why in in world (of Warcraft) wouldn’t you wait to give me this until I actually have enough attack skills that I’m not standing around waiting on resource blocks? When I hit level 8 and was handed, not another builder, not another damage spender, but a heal skill, I ragequit.

I don’t see a way in which this isn’t simply poor low-level class design. This is Blizzard for goodness sake! I thought they invented polish and accessibility in MMOs. I mean, they did invent polish and accessibility in MMOs; I played just enough EverQuest and other older MMOs to know that. But this is 2018 and in every MMO I jump into, I have three to four skills on my hotbar by the time I’m level 3, and I don’t have to feel like I’m doing RuneScape combat. I can’t fathom, with all of the class revisions they’ve done over the years–after all is the post-Cataclysm revised leveling experience–that they haven’t made this better. Are they just trying to discourage alting by making the early game experience so bad you only want to do it once? I can’t imagine why a game would do this; alting makes for better players who stick around longer.

My friends who play WoW assure me that this is a good thing. That by the time you get a new skill you really know that last skill. But I feel like I learned all I needed to know by reading the tooltip. Yeah, if they dumped three or four hotbars full of stuff on me all at once (as I’m sure they do when you level boost), it would be overwhelming. But I think I could handle two or three more at the very beginning to get a decent feel for how the class plays. I don’t mean to mock them too much; their main complaint with Guild Wars 2 was that, once you get your relevant slot skills, leveling adds nothing new to your character until you start working on elite specs (and if you don’t like the elite specs for your class, you’re pretty much done progressing). I think that’s a legitimate complaint. But there’s a middle ground that seems to be missing in WoW.

I’m going to try rolling another class–probably a druid or a shaman–and stick with it for another week or so, but if those classes have equally terrible early games, Blizzard probably still isn’t getting any of my money on this one. I really don’t want to be this negative about a game that is so influential and widely beloved, and, going in, I honestly didn’t expect to be. I’m quite sure the game gets worlds better if I just stick with it just a bit longer, but I can muster no motivation to do so.
You really need to work on your first impressions, Blizzard.


A Look Back At Five Years Of Occasional Hero

I’ve now been running this blog for over five years. I had to go back and verify that I didn’t read that wrong when it showed up on my calendar the other day. It’s funny, all through school, I always said that I didn’t like writing. Then, my senior year of college I took a class in blogging (it was a Comm Arts class called “Electronic Publishing,” but really it should have been called “start a WordPress blog and read about basic HTML without actually using it”) because it sounded like easy credits for a senior Computer Science major. We were assigned to start a WordPress site and write about something that interested us twice a week, so I started a site where I reviewed retro games and talked about their impact on modern games. That site didn’t continue after the class was over, but it taught me that there was a form of writing that I actually kind of liked! After things settled down a little after college, I started this blog to talk about MMOs as a part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative under the terribly awkward and wordy title “Part Time Core Gamer” (I couldn’t think of anything catchy, so I guess I went for descriptive?). I started out with the goal of posting twice a week, but that was quickly adjusted to once a week, with permission not to guilt myself if I didn’t meet that expectation. I think that’s why I’ve lasted this long; it’s not an obligation for me. If I can’t think of anything to write about, I just don’t. It’s not a great way to grow a super popular, high traffic blog, but I’m not sure that’s really an attainable goal in 2018. This is just a side hobby of my gaming hobby.

A lot has happened in the last five years. For instance, my blog is the first place where I referred to this girl that I was getting to know as my “girlfriend” even though we hadn’t made it “official” or anything, mainly because “girlfriend” was easier to write than “this cute girl I know that I’ve been hanging out with that might be my girlfriend? I think? I mean, if she wants to?” I had my blog linked on my personal Facebook at the time, and she stumbled upon it and realized that I was talking about her. She must have been ok with it, because she is now my wife. While life hasn’t always been great over the last five years, she always is. I’m also proud of the fact that she has gone from rarely playing games on her PlayStation when we first met to now playing Elder Scrolls Online more than I do, with way higher crafting levels.

I’ve come and gone to a lot of different MMOs in five years. Flipping casually through my posts, I went from being lukewarm about Guild Wars 2 to it being my main game for several years, now back to being a little lukewarm on it again. More recently, I’ve gone from being lukewarm on Elder Scrolls Online to it being my main game, so take that as you will. I posted a lot about Marvel Heroes and WildStar, and more recently about how we lost them. I’ve posted intermittently about Star Wars The Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online and Star Trek Online and a number of other titles, and I’d really like to go back to those games, but not right now. I just hope they’re all there when I want to go back.

It seems like, more often than not, the posts I’m really proud of don’t get a ton of hits, but the posts I just threw together on my lunch break blow up. I know I’m not alone in this. The post that got my all-time most hits was “Philosophy Shifts in Heart of Thorns, And Why They’re Wrong” from January of 2016. It got over six times as many hits as its followup, “Things Heart of Thorns Is Doing Right.” That should tell me something about how negativity sells, but I don’t want to be that kind of blogger. To be fair, the “Why They’re Wrong” post was featured as a headline on Massively Overpowered‘s Global Chat column before the “Doing Right” part was posted. Also, thanks for the signal boosts over the years, MOP! You definitely get more eyes on my site than anything else. After Guild Wars 2, my Lord of the Rings Online posts seem to be most popular. I try not to be too metric-driven, because, again, this blog is for fun, but it’s interesting to look at from time to time.

In closing, thank you to everyone who reads my blog. There aren’t thousands or even hundreds of you, but thanks to those who do. Thank you to everyone who leaves a comment. It means a lot to me, even if I’m bad at responding. Thanks to my fellow bloggers for giving me things to read and think about. Thanks to the people who run projects like Newbie Blogger Initiative that gave me the push to start blogging again five years ago and Blaugust that, while I don’t really participate, gives me a lot of posts to read and encouragement to keep going.
Blogging may be considered a “dead” medium, quickly being replaced by podcasts and YouTube and Twitch, but I’m glad that there are still those of us who prefer it, and a community of people who want to nurture it. I don’t know if I’ll still be blogging in another five years, but I really didn’t know I’d be blogging this long.

Is World of Warcraft Worth Starting In 2018?

I’ve played just about every major MMO you can name, but I’ve never seriously played World of Warcraft. While I’ve watched it from the outside for years, the extent of my first hand experience is that I did the free trial for a couple of nights when one of my friends was thinking of going back, but he didn’t end up sticking around and neither did I. Now several of my other friends have jumped on the Battle for Azeroth bandwagon, and I’m starting to toy with the idea again.

Part of my hesitation is that I also recently went back to Old School RuneScape. It’s pretty ironic, because that was the MMO that we all used to play together, and one by one they all left me to play WoW, while I stayed behind on (the much cheaper) RuneScape. I’m really enjoying my time in RuneScape, but as I walk around, I can’t help but think about how awful this game would be for a newcomer. There are so many archaic systems that just aren’t well thought out or are intentionally designed to slow down progress or are just plain hard to understand, I can’t imagine playing this for more than a few hours before giving up, logging out, and never coming back. I enjoy this game more because of nostalgia, and less for the game itself. (To be completely fair to RuneScape, there are some really great things to do buried in there, but there’s a crap ton of grinding before you get to that, and past that is basically just more grinding)
How does all of this relate to WoW? I’m wondering how much my friends who make their periodical return to Azeroth are also riding on nostalgia, and how much the game experience really is superior. I know RuneScape and WoW are two very different games, but the juxtaposition of my friends’ nostalgia and my own is difficult to ignore.

My other concern is that I’m already so far behind, will I catch up and be able to play with them by the time they get bored and move on to something else? Because if I’m not going to play with them, I might as well keep playing other games that I know I’ll like. 120 is a lot of levels, and they actually somewhat know what they’re doing and where they’re going. I guess I could buy a booster, but that’s more money to spend. Maybe the new and controversial level scaling would make playing with them actually viable? I’ll have to look into that.

Finally, I’ve already touched on this, but is the game really worth subscribing to? They’ve gotten rid of the initial box fee, so there’s that barrier gone (not that it was much of a barrier anyway; I used to see it go on sale all the time for less than the cost of the first month sub it came with). I’ve heard the argument that, if it’s got so many players and it’s basically the only game to still have a mandatory sub then it must be worth it, but personally I’ve always thought that WoW has survived the way it has because of pure momentum. It was in the right place at the right time; it took the EverQuest model and made it more accessible and polished, and it got tons of players who never quite went away. But hey, I haven’t played it extensively, so what do I know.

So I’m throwing the question out to the Internets: Is it worth my time to start World of Warcraft as a brand new player in 2018?

MMO Living Conditions, Ranked Worst To Best

A while back, my wife and I got into this anime called Log Horizon that involves thousands players getting trapped in an MMO world. Not in a virtual reality way, but actually physically there, having to work out how to navigate the intricacies and politics of a world where former players are apparently immortal. Since then, we’ve often joked about what it would be like to wake up one day in the various games that we play. Here are a few of the games that I play or have played over the years, ranked based on how much I would or would not want to live in them.

Tamriel (Elder Scrolls Online)
This game has finally clicked with me and I’ve been enjoying playing it a lot lately, but there’s no way I’d want to live here. There’s a three-faction war on, yes, but that’s the least of our worries in this world. Crime is rampant, everyone is racist, and daedra are constantly causing terrible things to happen all over the place. At least two thirds of quest stories end depressingly, usually involving people ending up dead. And can you imagine living in Vulkhel Guard with dark anchors dropping from the sky every five minutes about a hundred yards from the city gate? Sure, adventurers love killing the daedra there for the experience, but what happens if they don’t show up one day?

The Star Wars Galaxy (Star Wars The Old Republic)
There are a lot of cool places to live in the Star Wars ‘verse, there’s a hyperdrive-equipped spaceship in every driveway, and the prospect of having force powers is tempting, but in the time of the old republic, you’ve got about a 50/50 shot of living in the not-so-bad Republic, or on a world dominated by the Sith, or, perhaps worse, some Hutt gang. And then there’s the whole thing with the Eternal Empire coming through and wiping everyone out with superweapons. Given the choice, I’ll pass on this one.

Gielinor (RuneScape)
Life in RuneScape is pretty simple. For the most part, catastrophically bad things tend to only happen when you go looking for trouble, and there’s no shortage of ways to earn gold for those willing to do a little menial labor. Even basic housing is pretty cheap! The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is because, quite frankly, it’s one of the least exciting MMOs I’ve ever played. It’s about as safe as real life because it feels a lot like real life, just with the occasional fireball thrown in.

Tyria (Guild Wars (2))
All things considered, life isn’t too bad in Tyria. Sure, there’s the threat of elder dragon attack, but cities (other than poor Lion’s Arch) seem relatively safe, and travel is fast and easy (and cheap!). Also, anything you need help with, from your livestock getting loose to a bandit raid to a mordrem invasion, you can pretty much just yell and adventurers will wander by and help you.

Nexus (WildStar)
Aside from the fact that this world is about to cease to exist, Nexus seems like a pretty cool place to live. Sure, there’s the constant threat of random faction violence, becoming a Strain mutant, and danger from all manor of weird alien life forms. I’m not saying it’s safer than any of the other worlds on this list. But there are hoverboards. And space ships. And giant plots of land in the sky that you can get for free! What more could you ask for?

Middle-Earth (Lord of the Rings Online)
Middle-Earth has its fair share of places that would be terrible to live (forget orcs, I can think of way too many places infested by giant spiders), but for every one of those, there’s a place like the Shire, or Bree-town, or Rivendell (which, while beautiful, is infested by elves, who are almost as bad as the spiders). Pretty much everywhere is beautiful, apart from Mordor and Angmar and maybe a few other places, and most of the free peoples are pretty friendly and helpful.

WildStar and the Futility of Online Gaming

Well, it’s not a surprise. I honestly expected it a long time ago. But there it is. WildStar is officially sunsetting. I adored this game. I loved the colorfulness, the characters, the story, the world, the freedom of movement, the classes. It had the best housing. It had the amazing combat. It had an incredible soundtrack. It had the my favorite mounts (I’ll miss you most of all, DeLorean hoverboard). But the game launched far too focused on ultra hardcore endgame raiding, and, while it had so much else going for it, it couldn’t turn the Titanic away from that iceberg. I think they tried, but the damage was done, both because they had built a team of people who didn’t know how to do anything else, and because their public perception was irreparably damaged. I want so badly for this game to get saved and rebooted by a different team, but I know it’s not going to happen.

At least we saw this one coming a little more than Marvel Heroes. But losing the two of them within a year of each other has had me thinking a lot of depressing, “all is vanity” type thoughts about playing MMOs.
XKCD 1136
All MMOs will shut down. It’s hard to imagine popular games like Elder Scrolls Online or the unstoppable juggernaut that is World of Warcraft suffering the same fate as WildStar, but realistically, this will happen sooner or later. It’s ironic, because one of the reasons why I like MMOs is because I feel like my achievements mean something. In a normal RPG, I get to the end and that’s it. Your character lives happily ever after and has no more adventures for the rest of their days (unless they show up in a sequel having inexplicably leveled back down to 1 from level atrophy or something). In an MMO, my character lives on indefinitely and continues doing bigger and better things. Until the game goes dark. I can always dust off the SNES and go for a Hyrule nostalgia tour around Zelda: Link to the Past (or, better yet, play it in one of the numerous more modern formats it has been released on), but how many 27-year-old MMOs will we be able to pull off the shelf and play again? The answer is we don’t know yet because the genre isn’t that old, but I doubt it will be many. How many more decades can Ultima Online have left in it? Or Everquest? Or Eve? In some ways, as long as people keep showing up with money, you might as well continue development, or at least keep the servers on, but on the other hand, from a business standpoint, it’s an opportunity cost. If they’re investing X dollars over here and getting a 10% return and X dollars over there and getting a 200% return, they’re both making money, but which one do you think they’re going to invest more in? That’s what happened to City of Heroes (which, ironically, many people believe was killed to fund WildStar). Sooner or later it’s going to happen to every online game.

But, you know what? Gaming ultimately isn’t about permanence or achievement for me. It’s about having fun. I had a ton of fun in WildStar, throwing psi-blades at alien robots, stealthing around and slicing up strain-infected wildlife with Wolverine claws, and putting on laser light shows that heal my friends. I met some cool people, none of whom I talk to anymore, sure, but I still remember their names and their characters and their voices. I built cool houses (nowhere near as cool as some people’s, but I enjoyed them). I spent a lot of time zooming around Nexus on hoverboards just for the fun of it (have I mentioned how much I love hoverboards?). I took a lot of screenshots.
I got a lot of memories out of it.
So in a way, even when they shut down, MMOs are still permanent in the ways that matter.

Old School RuneScape Mobile

I’ve been playing RuneScape on a device that fits in my pocket. We are officially in the future.

As you may remember from past posts on the subject, RuneScape was my first MMO back in 2005. I played it for about five or six years, subscribing for most of that time. I was lured away by various other, newer MMOs and when I returned, the game was so different that it just wan’t appealing to me. So when they announced Old School, I was interested, and I would dabble in it from time to time. Since Old School characters are separate from those in the main game, I had to start all over, which is fun, but loses some of its charm when you’re remembering all the things you used to be able to do, and realize that it will probably take you years to get back to that point. Then they announced Old School for Mobile, and I was very interested. I’ve been thinking for years that RuneScape would be great on mobile with only minimal tweaking. It’s already point-and-click, with low-end graphics that theoretically shouldn’t burden even a relatively cheaper a phone.

Old School RuneScape Mobile recently went into beta/early access/soft launch/whatever we’re calling it these days. Currently it’s only available to subscribers on Android, though it’s supposed to be available to everyone October 30th. Fortunately, Twitch Prime offered a free month of subscription (plus purple skin, just in case you want to look like Thanos’s blockier little brother). I’ve been impressed with how well it plays on my phone. I don’t have an Android tablet (yet? This might finally convince me I need one), and sometimes games are a little cramped on a smaller screen. RuneScape, however, was originally designed to be played in a browser on a 1024×768 monitor, so it’s no stranger to small screen spaces. Also, the UI has been redesigned to collapse into the edges of the screen, so you don’t have to try to navigate around the inventory and chat box if you’re not using them. The game’s overall slow pace helps a lot as well. Inventory management is a little hard, since fingers are imprecise, but it’s far from the worst mobile user experience I’ve had.

My only complaint is battery consumption. I generally burn through at least 50% of my battery just playing on my lunch hour. This isn’t really surprising–most 3D games, especially online ones, are about the same–but it’s something I’d like to see them work on if possible. It has been pretty kind to my data plan, though, which surprised me (I don’t have access to reliable wifi at my desk).

It has been fun getting to know this game again on mobile. While I’m at my PC, I want a full PC experience, but this is something I can do in my down time while I’m at work or out and about. Between this, Maplestory, and Final Fantasy XI (that’s still supposedly coming to mobile, right?), it makes me wonder what other older MMOs would work on mobile. I’d love to give Guild Wars 1 a try on mobile!

Elder Scrolls: Legends is Better Than Hearthstone

I don’t always play CCGs, but when I do, I play Elder Scrolls: Legends.

I recently got a new job (that I like a lot!) that’s far enough away that I can no longer run home for lunch and maybe a little gaming, as I’ve been doing for years now, so I’ve started playing phone games a lot on my lunch breaks. I wanted something I could play in a short time, but something more stimulating than the fluff I normally associate with phone games. Collectible card games seemed to fit the bill. The collectible/trading card game genre isn’t my favorite, but I don’t hate it either. I never got into physical card games, but when they first started coming to PC and mobile I dabbled in them a little. I’ve put the most time into Hearthstone, Blizzard’s Warcraft-themed entry. I enjoyed it for a while (though at first I wasn’t sure) for an occasional game here and there. Then I quit playing because–and this is a dumb reason, I admit–the release cadence was too fast. I know anyone who plays a lot probably loves the constant stream of updates and new cards to mess around with, but I just found it annoying that my cards were being invalidated three or four times a year, either because they weren’t “in season” or because of power creep. Plus I felt like the good cards I was getting were always spread out over multiple classes, so I only ever had one or two good really cards for each, with no good “main” deck. I’m not sure if they do that on purpose to encourage playing a variety of decks or if it was just bad RNG. Either way, I didn’t stick around long.

Then I tried Elder Scrolls: Legends. It was the same concept as Hearthstone, some would say a blatant ripoff (Bethesda claims that they started work on the game before Hearthstone was even announced, so there’s that, but I’d bet that it at least had some influence on later development), but it’s got its own unique twists. The CCG genre is one that I think has plenty of potential for unique iteration, unlike other games whose wannabe competitors pop up like weeds and then shut down a few months later because there’s nothing unique about them, like MOBAs and Battle Royales. Legends’ most obvious difference is that it has two “lanes,” and cards can’t attack across lanes. All cards played in the right lane start out stealthed, so they generally can’t be attacked until a turn later, but cards in the left lane do not. This alone adds a layer of strategy that makes it more fun and interesting than Hearthstone.

Also interesting is that you can create decks from two different “classes,” or stats (three with certain cards from the Morrowind expansion). This allows for much more deck variety, and mitigates the disappointment when you get a good card that’s locked behind a class you don’t like or have nothing else good in. It’s also not as overwhelming as games that have no classes and just dump all of the cards on you with no indication as to which ones synergize well.

Finally, as I talked about earlier, I never liked Hearthstone’s revolving door of deprecated cards. It just feels like they’re trying to get you to constantly buy card packs. In Legends, I’m far from having every card, but I feel like I have plenty of good cards to choose from, but there are enough that I still enjoy getting new ones from doing daily quests and such. So far they haven’t removed any cards from ranked play, though I recognize that that can only last so long.

I wouldn’t say that the game is perfect, however. Probably my biggest annoyance is that arenas cost gold to enter. I played this mode a lot in Hearthstone, because I didn’t need to have good cards, I just had to be lucky enough to pick good random ones. You can win your 150 gold back (and more) fairly quickly, but that’s basically gambling, and I’m sure I’ve lost more gold that way than I’ve won. I also feel like the Warcraft ‘verse makes for a more interesting TCG than Elder Scrolls, even if I’m a little less familiar with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like either game is reaching for ideas to make cards out of, but the colorful, sometimes goofy characters of Azeroth just feel better to me as cards. Maybe that’s just me.

Bethesda recently announced that they would be switching developers for Elder Scrolls: Legends from Dire Wolf Digital to Sparkypants Studios (with a name like that, you know they’re professionals). It could be great, but will likely mean some kind of a shift in the way the game works, which is always a little worrying. But Bethesda generally knows what they’re doing, so we’ll see. The game definitely has plenty of room for improvement; I’m a pretty casual player, so I can’t speak to balance, but the game takes forever to load, be that on PC or mobile, and if you disconnect for even a moment you have to reload the whole game before you get back into your match, which means you basically lose a whole turn and a lot of time. So if they can fix things like that, I’ll be happy.

So there you have it, that’s why I prefer Elder Scrolls: Legends over Hearthstone. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments!