Combat in Elder Scrolls Online: Good or Bad?

I was running some public dungeons with my guild in Elder Scrolls Online the other day, and we started talking about all the stuff we liked about the game. One guildie started gushing about the combat, about how fluid and active and engaging it is, and another responded with “Eh… it’s ok. I prefer tab targeting.” I was kind of torn about which side to take.

Personally, my all time favorite combat in any MMO was WildStar. It was an awesome mix of action and tab target where position mattered, and you were constantly ducking out of red telegraphs. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine. Too bad WildStar’s developers decided that the best thing to do with their excellent combat was to push people into ultra-hardcore endgame raiding, leading to its ultimate demise. Two MMOs’ combat styles remind me a little of WildStar, and those are Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online. GW2 leans more toward the traditional, WoW-style tab target, whereas ESO leans more toward shooter-style action combat (which reflects the roots of each). GW2’s combat feels a lot better to me–I feel like I’m given better feedback when I’m doing something right, which makes me feel more like I know what I’m doing–but ESO has a lot more of the situational awareness/dodge-the-red-circles component, especially in dungeons (to a much more reasonable degree than WildStar).

Combat has, in my opinion, always been a weak point in The Elder Scrolls franchise. The main, numbered games’ combat boils down to “click to attack, click longer to attack harder.” ESO’s combat is a little more interesting, with five skill slots and an ultimate, times two swappable bars. Technically, that’s potentially more usable skills than WildStar or Guild Wars 2. So, while it feels watered down because you’re only seeing five skills at a time, if you think of it as having a ten slot bar with two different ultimate choices it’s not that different from other modern MMOs. That said, shooter/action camera has always felt unwieldy to me. I’d much rather my character only turn when I have the right mouse button down, and there are a lot of times where I’m left wondering if my fireball actually hit the things I was pointing at or if it fell just short.

I don’t hate ESO’s combat, but I don’t love it. I would rather it was a different style, but it’s not enough to overcome the things I do like about the game. It has incredible story, a great crafting system that is made even more useful by a pretty good housing system, and nice graphics. If ESO didn’t have any of that and was nothing but a bland murder hobo sim, I wouldn’t be playing it. But if the combat was absolutely painful to me, I wouldn’t stick around long enough for the things I do like.

So… I guess my position is firmly on the fence?

What are your thoughts on ESO’s combat? Do you love it, do you hate it, or do you just kind of put up with it?

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ESO: To Elsweyr!

The official announcement is finally here! We’re going to Elsweyr, home of the Khajiit! And we’re getting the necromancer class! I’m excited. This will be the first expansion to come to ESO while I’m playing seriously, and its theme appeals to me a lot more than either of the other two we’ve gotten.

We’ve had a bit of a hype buildup already, starting, unfortunately, with a datamine (I tried to avoid spoilers, but they were pretty widely talked about). The Loreseekers made a good point on their podcast (S3 E9 around 26:15), that Zenimax Online did a great job of recovering gracefully from what could have been a PR disaster for them, quickly taking back the reigns of the hype train (that’s a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean). I’m struck by the contrast between them and ArenaNet, who, when their expansion info was leaked last year (basically because they weren’t releasing any info to hype the launch, so testers decided to take matters into their own hands), just stayed silent. They probably thought of it as refusing to negotiate with terrorists, but the way ZOS handled it feels so much better as a player; quickly acknowledge that there was a leak, and tell us when official information is coming. I can see why some would feel like this is giving the leaker the attention he or she wants, but the longer leakers are the only source of information the more attention they’re going to get from other players. I’m not sure if ZOS actually moved up their timetable for announcement in response to this or not, but either way, they handled the situation expertly.

Necromancer has long been number two on my list of classes I’d love to see added to ESO, just behind Dwemer Engineer (which will probably never happen), and I know it’s been widely requested across the community as well. (Other classes on that list include bard and monk, if you were wondering) Marvel Heroes’ Squirrel Girl and Rocket Raccoon taught me to love summoner classes, and now that that’s gone, there’s nothing out there really filling that void right now. It seems like MMOs tend to hate summoner classes, though (probably due to performance concerns) so we’ll see if necro summoner actually ends up viable. From what I’ve seen from the stream, it looks like they’ll have access to a number of temporary pets that do a variety of things, similar to Diablo’s necromancer, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I’m interested to get more of the story, too. If anyone was going to get greedy and accidentally release dragons on the world, it would be Abnur Tharn. I’m hoping maybe this humbles him a little, but I’m not holding my breath. During the stream, they also really drove home the point that we’re not dragonborn, so we can’t actually kill dragons. I guess that way we have a reason to kill the same dragons repeatedly, maybe as dolmen bosses? We’ll see.

See you in the spring, and may your road lead you to warm sands.

LotRO: Never Mind, I’m Rerolling

You may recall that the last time I talked about LotRO and its Legendary Server, I had decided I was definitely going to see my warden through to 50. At this point, though, I haven’t played for a couple of weeks now because, for some reason, the last few weeks of December is super busy, and my enthusiasm for that character has waned, which has made it harder to want to log in. My warden muscle memory is getting a little rusty, and I’m so far behind the pack now (just finished up the Lone Lands) that starting over isn’t going to make much difference, though I still think I can catch up before Moria hits if I stick with it. Also, while playing warden is really fun, it’s also a little exhausting. There are so many things to keep track of! You’re constantly thinking about building gambits and gambit combos and trying to balance self healing with taunting and DoTing. I love that type of tactical, always-three-steps-ahead gameplay, and it’s very rewarding when you’re hitting everything just right, but I’m realizing that it’s not the kind of thing I want from LotRO right now. I’m more interested in a simpler, more relaxed gameplay experience. I figure, if I’m not happy with the class, I should reroll now and not feel bad about it.

So I rolled a lore-master. “But wait,” you say, “isn’t lore-master probably the next most complex class after warden?” Yes, it probably is. And I’m pretty sure they got a fairly sizable nerf not long ago too. But it has pets and DoTs and a little healing and crowd control! What’s not to love? Plus, it’s a different kind of complexity. It still has that always-three-steps-ahead feel I love about the warden, but with cast bars. You have to use all of your tricks to stay ahead of the game, but it’s more spread out and less frantic. Besides, I never said I made sense.

I’m making quick work of the lower levels. I just did most of these quests on my warden, so rather than reading and doing every possible quest, I’m trying to push myself by only doing on-level or above quests. Going from warden, a self-healing, self-buffing tanking machine, to a lore-master, a squishy caster, has been a bit of an adjustment. On a good day, though, I’m able to use my stuns to keep enemies at bay and burn them down one at a time. On a bad day… well, let’s just say I’ve been stocking up on food and health gear.

I still really want to level a minstrel healer some day, but I think lore-master is probably a better pick for me right now. My minnie is a farmer/cook, so he’s actually a decent level for never having left Ered Luin, just because of crafting XP. This has always been my problem with this game; all of the classes are so well designed that I want to try them all, but there’s so much content that I’ve never seen that I feel bad alting too much. I feel pulled in both directions and usually end up doing neither.

LotRO: An Unexpected Party

For those who don’t know, January 3rd is J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday. It’s something of a holiday among Tolkien fans (I’m a pretty casual fan; I’ve read the Hobbit and the Trilogy, but beyond that, most of what I know comes from LotRO and reading wikis), with various celebrations culminating in toasting “The Professor” at 9:00 pm your local time. I cut a piece of pie for myself (peanut butter pie isn’t very Hobbity, but it’s what I had on hand) and logged into LotRO to celebrate. I had no particular plan, so I did my Yule dailies on the Legendary server and then started puttering around Bree. That’s when I heard music coming from the stage across the street from the Prancing Pony. It was a little Tolkien Day party, with a three piece band in matching outfits and maybe a dozen humans, hobbits, dwarves, and elves gathered around enjoying it. I only caught the end, but they were doing a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas with a “singer” /saying some fun Lord of the Rings-themed lyrics. At 9:00, they handed out free beer and toasted The Professor, and thanked him for creating an incredible world that lives on beyond him and which we now virtually inhabit.

There were bigger parties (I saw a video of a particularly big one on Landroval). I, and anyone else there, could have gone there and had a bigger community experience. The musicians could have gotten way more exposure for their guild there. But they didn’t. I like to think that it’s because they think of Arnor as their home community now, and they wanted to celebrate with them. It’s kind of how I view LotRO; there are plenty of bigger, flashier, newer MMOs out there, but I like LotRO because you don’t get experiences like that in just any game. And these weren’t “influencers” asking you to like and subscribe and follow and whatever else so they could get your ad revenue. They were just random players doing something cool for random players like me who happened to wander by.

In short, I love this game and its community, and I need to play more.

Gaming Resolutions For 2019

It’s that time of year again where everyone is making their New Year’s Resolutions! Here are a few of mine, in the realm of gaming at least.

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I just can’t justify the cost of 4K.
Sorry, I had to get that out of the way.

Play More Lord of the Rings Online
I love LotRO. Every time I log in I wish I was playing more often. Yet sometimes it’s hard to get myself to log in. I don’t know how to explain it. And it happened again with the Legendary server; I started off strong, logging in almost every day, and then I fizzled out in December. I want to find a way to motivate myself to log in every day again, and get to 50 before Moria hits. Maybe start work on an alt?
Also, there’s always that looming anxiety that LotRO might not be there much longer. While I feel more confident about LotRO’s future now than at the beginning of the year, with legendary servers bringing back a bunch of players, lately Daybreak has been killing everything it touches. It’s still unclear what exactly the relationship is between Standing Stone Games and Daybreak, but it’s enough to make me nervous.

Spend Some Time In Elder Scrolls Online’s Housing
I love housing systems, but I feel like I always put off actually doing anything in them. Logging into WildStar (may it rest in piece) to get screenshots before the shutdown reminded me of all the grand plans I had for my various houses, and how little I actually got done. I’m starting to get decently well established in ESO, and I have some ideas for a few houses that I’d like to start working on.

Play More Group Content
I’m pretty comfortable playing MMOs solo or duo with my wife. That’s great, and I don’t have a problem with it, but I’d like to start getting into dungeons more. After all, why play a massively multiplayer game, join a guild, etc. if you’re going to play alone? Ok, there are a lot of really good reasons, but the point is, I’d like to start doing dungeons (and possibly larger group content?) more often in ESO, LotRO, and whatever other MMOs the new year brings. I really enjoyed tanking some dungeons during ESO’s Undaunted event (despite the buggy/overloaded group finder), and I’ve had the itch to do some healing again as well.

Publish A Game
I tend to start a lot of game dev projects and not finish them, and lately I’ve been thinking about why. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve been hearing this advice for years now that you should “make the kind of game you’d like to play.” The problem is that the kind of game I like to play is large in scope, deep in complexity, and rich in story. That’s why I play so many MMOs and RPGs. But my first published game (created by, at most, me and two or three friends) just isn’t going to be any of those things. Maybe one of them at best. I think I need to lower my personal expectations to making a game that I wouldn’t pay more than five dollars for. That’s not settling, that’s walking before I run. I don’t need to be Pixel or Notch or ConcernedApe or any number of other developers whose first published game was a labor of love masterpiece.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate First Impressions

I know I write mostly about MMOs here, but there is one other game genre that I love as much if not more: platform fighters. I think most people aren’t aware that Super Smash Bros. spawned a genre, but, like anything, they span from kind of bad (Brawlout) to mediocre (Icons: Combat Arena, though I still thought that one had potential if it had just kept going) to great (Rivals of Aether). Really, though, Super Smash Bros. is still the undisputed king. It invented the genre, and while many would say that no subsequent game has recaptured the glory days of Melee (it certainly is the most fun to watch, if not the most fun to play), I am personally always excited for each new release. This is the first game in years that I’ve taken the day off work for (and attended the midnight release for), and I ended up playing it pretty much all day. I unlocked all of the roster in that first weekend, and now, a week in, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the unique things about this game.

The biggest change for me in this iteration has been the new physics. Sure, every release messes with the physics, but I think it’s safe to say that Ultimate has had the biggest changes yet. It does this weird thing where characters fly away fast at first, then slow down. As a long time player (and just as a casual observer how physics works in the real world), it really messes with my head sometimes. I’ve been reading comments from players since the earliest demos about how you think for sure that hit killed, but actually your opponent stalled out off screen and managed to get back to stage, and I can now confirm that this is true. The idea is to keep people from being comboed and juggled too much, giving them more control over their own fate, and making player work more for their kills. I haven’t decided yet if I like that. Stringing together combos is one of the things that makes fighters, especially platform fighters, look and feel good when played well. It’s not like you can’t combo things, it’s just very different, especially at high percent. Then again, it’s better than metaknight just pushing you off the top every thirty seconds.

The other exciting thing about a new game release is the addition of new characters and tweaks to old ones. Nintendo traditionally doesn’t believe in supporting games over the long haul, so once those first few DLCs and updates have dried up, the game balance is pretty much set for the next few years–a far cry from what I’m used to in MMOs, with their constant poking and prodding at classes. In terms of new characters, I’ve had a lot of fun playing Ridley, who has been a long-requested character that many (myself included) thought would never be playable. I’m not really sure he’s tournament viable or anything, but that doesn’t stop him from being a lot of fun to mess around with. That tail stab move is devastating if it hits… the operative word being “if.” It’s like Jigglypuff’s rest, but even harder to hit with. I’ve also been spending a lot of time playing Chrom. The Marth-like characters have always been fun, but there’s something about his balance of power and agility that is refreshing. His recovery is a little wonky, but it can be used as a sacrificial KO, so there’s that. The two Castlevania characters are also interesting. I’m still learning how to best use their weird long, narrow chain-whip hitboxes, but I think with some practice they could be really good. I gravitate toward Richter’s longer smash attacks rather than Simon’s longer specials, but it could go either way.

As far as tweaks to older characters, I’ve been a Link fan since ’99, so I’m very happy with the changes he’s gotten this time around. He is much faster, and that remote bomb has some great potential. I also like what they’ve done to Sonic. He was one of those characters that I liked in Brawl and didn’t like in Smash 4, and I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on why. It’s the same character and moveset, but sometimes small tweaks make me not like a character, even if he was ranked higher by the pros in Smash 4. Ultimate’s Sonic seems like a nice compromise. Shulk has also gotten some nice tweaks. When Smash 4 first came out, I thought he could have been a really good character, with great range and good aerials, but in the end he was just kind of mediocre, and his self-buff Monado Arts system was unwieldy. They’ve made some nice improvements to him in Ultimate, including making those buffs more friendly, so I’ll definitely be giving him another shot. He still might be more complicated than he’s worth, though. I’m also happy that Cloud and Bayonetta got some nerfs. It always bothered me that they threw these two characters in the last round of DLCs and they immediately jumped to the top tier. They’re not unplayable or anything, just not overpowered like they were before, which is all I ask.

The biggest disappointment is Ultimate’s online play. Lag is nothing new, mainly because players don’t realize wifi, even with a strong signal, is the culprit (and it has been handled better by other platform fighters, but that’s a discussion that’s more technical than you’re probably interested in), but the worst part is that there isn’t really a 1v1 option. Nintendo has never understood that, while Smash is a nice enough 4+ player party game, it really shines in 1v1. Previous iterations allowed players to pick from 1v1 or free-for-all. This game lets you set “preferred” rules, but doesn’t guarantee you that you’ll get anything close. My preferred ruleset is 1v1 with a 7 minute time limit, no items, any stage type, but I’d say that easily two thirds of my matches have been 4 player free-for-alls with at least some form of items. More than anything else in this game, I really hope this gets changed in a future update.

But this is, and always has been, mainly a couch multiplayer game, so, as disappointing as it is, bad online play doesn’t take away from the fact that this is shaping up to be my favorite entry in the series. Better balance, new and different physics, the most stages and characters of any game (and more to come!), all in a format that I can play either on the big screen or on the go. I really can’t complain. This will be something I’ll definitely be playing for years to come!

Warframe: Officially a Nintenno Switch Player

It’s official: I’ve made the Switch switch. After dabbling in Warframe on the PC for a couple of years now, I’ve migrated to the Nintendo handheld world. I’ve always been a strongly PC gamer with a Nintendo console on the side for exclusives like Zelda and Smash Bros., but I never thought I’d play anything resembling an MMO, much less a shoooter, on console. Keyboard and mouse just gives you so much more accuracy than a controller, and most days I’d much rather communicate with strangers by typing than voice chat. But, for whatever reason, every time I try to play Warframe on PC, my hands and wrists start to hurt. I think it’s just the finger gymnastics involved in running, sliding, and jumping. I’ve tried remapping the keys to more comfortable positions, but it hasn’t helped. A USB Xbox controller makes things more comfortable, but then we’re back to the loss of accuracy problem. The solution: Switch gyro controls. Yes, I know, I’ve hated on the Wiimote’s motion controls for over a decade now, but playing Splatoon 2 on the Switch Pro Controller with gyro controls on has changed my mind. It’s the next best thing to a keyboard and mouse, because you can use the right thumbstick for course adjustments, and the gyro controls to fine tune your aim. It takes some getting used to, but after a couple of hours it feels pretty natural. I was actually able to beat a boss that was giving me trouble last time I played on PC on the first try!

Can we talk about how good this game looks on Switch? It’s not as good as maxed out settings on PC, but a few years ago I would never have believed Nintendo could squeeze this kind of graphical fidelity into a handheld tablet form factor. Next time someone claims that the Switch has the same hardware as the Wii/Wii U, I’m going to show them this game. Sure, it’s not 1080p@60fps, but I’ve never really been able to tell that difference from my couch. I saw some minor FPS drops on particularly hectic missions, but nothing game breaking (and I’m told these can be improved by dialing back the settings if you find them particularly troubling). It’s really impressive!

While the game is, sadly, not crossplay with the PC, Digital Extremes was kind enough to allow PC players to copy their PC accounts to the Switch, as they did when the XBOne/PS4 versions came out a while back. That’s really nice, because it would be sad to lose out on the items and gear I’ve spent time farming for (or gotten from Twitch). The only thing that didn’t transfer was the cash shop currency platinum, so I used up my platinum buying the Octavia ‘frame and some extra slots before I transferred. This techno bard-style class is one of the things that made me pay attention to this game; I actually thought Warframe was just a lobby shooter in the vein of Overwatch when I first heard about it, but for some reason I read an article on the launch of Octavia and my interest was piqued. I love bards in any form, so I’m looking forward to learning to play this one.

Will Warframe ever become my main not-quite-an-MMO? No, but it has replaced Marvel Heroes (which shut down 1 year ago today, RIP) as a mindless, casual side game that allows me to grind for lots of fun stuff without having to spend a penny (unless I want to look cool). The Switch version has made it a lot more accessible to me, not only because I can play it portably, but also because its control scheme is easier. I’m looking forward to the new open world Fortuna zone coming to Switch. I spent a little bit of time in it on PC and thought it was really cool (no pun intended) and made the game feel a lot more MMOish and less like the single player/co-op game that it launched as.