ESO: Morrowind First Impressions

I’ve never been a huge Elder Scrolls fan. I like in theory–huge, open world RPG, deep customization, great story, and an incredible soundtrack–but its setting is just such generic fantasy (Nordic people running around mountains shouting and slaying dragons… how original) with uninteresting combat, and perhaps a bit too much freedom to the point where you can really mess your character up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I thought Elder Scrolls Online was going to finally be my gateway to Nirn, but, while the gameplay was more to my liking, a few things never quite clicked for me.

Morrowind was marketed as a chance at a fresh start for the game; a new tutorial experience, a new class, and a new part of the world to explore. Any normal MMO would have called that an expansion, but apparently that’s not cool enough, so they’re calling this a new “chapter.” Whatever, everyone’s still going to think of it as an expansion, myself included. Anyways, a fresh start sounded like exactly what I needed in ESO, so I jumped in.

I really like the new warden class. The classes in ESO have never quite clicked for me, but the warden has a lot going for it. The bear pet has gotten a lot of attention, and that’s a great addition. The game sort of had a pet class in the sorcerer, but their pets were kind of underpowered, and, given the tiny hotbar ESO gives you, you were better off putting points into something else. The warden does pets much better, with the bear summon skill being slotted to the Ultimate slot, with a free, no cooldown, short cast time summon skill, which turns into a nice execute command for the bear once your ultimate meter is full. I also have access to a nice mix of DoTs, direct damage, heals, and crowd control, even from a low level. The warden is truly the jack-of-all-trades class they promised.

The story of Morrowind has really impressed me as well. Not that the base game’s story was bad by any means, but the expansion story has been more engaging so far. I’m usually not a big fan of elves, especially in the Elder Scrolls-verse, but the contrast of the Dark Elves’ Ashlander outcasts and various noble houses (I was super confused for a second when one of the Ashlanders referred to “House Elves” and my mind went instantly to Harry Potter) and their very different, but equally complex cultures. There was a quest in/around Balmora (the town in Morrowind, not that awful planet in SWTOR) that was quite the rollercoaster: family drama, betrayal, noble house strife, politics, and a lot of exposition of the Morag Tong, a group of honorable assassins (because nothing says “honorable” like a license to legally break in and murder someone without trial because somebody told you they were bad). I was half way through the quest line before I realized that this isn’t the main quest, it’s a random sidequest line. It has actually made leveling really slow, because I’ve spent so much time reading/listening to all of the quest text, and I’m totally ok with that.

I’ve always known that The Elder Scrolls Online would one day click with me, and finally, thanks to Morrowind, I think it finally is. I’m not sure it’s ever going to be my main MMO, but it certainly has me more excited to play than anything else I’ve done in the game up to this point. Next I’d really like to find a good guild and give some dungeon healing a shot, so if you know of any, let me know!

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Why Doesn’t LotRO Hold My Attention?

I love Lord of the Rings Online. Video game adaptations of existing IPs tend to be almost universally awful, but LotRO is one of the shining examples of how to do this right. The characters feel Tolkienic, no shortcuts are taken on the story, and there are tons of little details straight out of the books (for instance, I just noticed that Farmer Maggot’s three hounds, mentioned briefly in Fellowship, can be seen running around his farm, with nameplates and everything). Not only is it well adapted, the gameplay is great as well. They have some surprisingly unique and interesting classes, and there’s a nice variety of PvE content for any group size (even if that’s a group of one). So why is it that I never stick around LotRO for very long?

“Rolled this new Warden class everyone is talking about. Now how do I get to Morrowind? #eso #lotro”

I recently popped into LotRO just to take a few screenshots of my warden fighting a bear so I could post this joke on Twitter referencing ESO’s new warden class. I’ve always felt like LotRO’s warden was a cool class, but was too complex for my casual playstyle, and never ended up playing him past the Archet tutorial area. But, in the time that it took me to run around the Shire looking for a bear to take a selfie with, the class really grew on me, and I got him to level 20 in just a few short play sessions (hobbit joke not intended). I really want to get through “the long dark of Moria” with my rune-keeper, though, because this always happens; I always find a new class that I want to play just as I’m getting to content I’ve never done before. I’m starting to get annoyed with myself for having owned all of these expansions for so long and never actually experiencing them. Let’s face it, while LotRO seems to be having a nice resurgence lately under its new management, it won’t be around forever, so I’d like to see as much of it as I can. Dangit, LotRO, your classes are all just too darn fun.

Another problem is that LotRO is very clearly an older MMO, with all of the barriers and annoyances that comes with that. Getting around the world isn’t very convenient or fast, and that takes away a lot of momentum (remember, games designed for a subscription model want to waste your time as much as possible so you stay subbed longer). Also, I think I’m spoiled by games like Guild Wars 2 where leveling is fairly quick, because I feel like I’ve been the same level for ages. I can’t imagine what it must be like when your levels start getting into the hundreds. Maybe that’s kind of a silly reason to get burnt out on a game, but there’s something about seeing that bar at the bottom of my screen fill up that keeps me motivated.

Also intimidating is that there are a lot of systems that I don’t quite know what to do with yet. What’s the best thing to do with the truckload of Legendary Items I don’t want? The bonuses on the LIs I currently have aren’t that great, so should I keep trying to get new ones, or should I not worry about it much until I get to a higher level? I should probably join a guild and ask for advice with these kinds of questions, but I have this (probably irrational) feeling that players are probably super tired of answering dumb questions about systems that are nearly ten years old at this point.

I’ve been alternating between my mid-50s rune-keeper and my low-20s warden the last few nights, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. I’d like to say that I’ll be sticking around for a while this time, but every time I say that I end up realizing shortly thereafter that I haven’t played it for a week or two. We shall see!

GW2: Expansion Wishlist


We know an expansion is near at hand in Guild Wars 2–late Summer or early Fall based on what’s coming out of ArenaNet–but we know virtually nothing about it. Yes, there was that leak on Reddit, but I don’t like reading or encouraging leaks (though I must admit I skimmed through the images briefly) and there’s still a lot those don’t tell us. It’s a little ridiculous that we’re supposedly this close to the expansion and we don’t know much of anything, but I’m guessing that releasing too many details, maybe even the expansion name itself, would be spoilers for the end of Season 3. Kind of poor planning if so, but whatever. Regardless, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to see in the next expansion to Guild Wars 2.

A New Race And/Or Class
Ideally, I would love it if every MMO expansion had a new race or class to experience. Too many expansions are basically just a level cap bump and a continuation of an existing story (I’m looking at you, SWTOR), but Guild Wars 2 doesn’t do level cap bumps, and it gives away Living World story updates for free, so without something more, that would seem like even more of a ripoff than in other games. New classes give me a whole new way of playing, breathing new life into even old content. You may recall that I didn’t really dig into the Heart of Thorns expansion for months because I was having so much fun leveling my Revenant. New races, too, give me an excuse to roll up an alt and see the world from a new perspective. The problem with adding races is that Guild Wars 2 has kind of painted itself into a corner with its personal story; it wouldn’t make sense for a member of a race we’ve never seen before show up and become the pact commander and slay a couple dragons years before we’ve even encountered that race. A new race would either have to start out at 80 and jump straight into the accompanying expansion (which would be kind of lame) or have a full 1-80 story all its own, which would require a lot of writing, voice acting, and several new sub-80 zones, all of which seem unlikely. Sadly, adding new classes also presents a problem. You can’t really add a new class every expansion or it will eventually become overwhelming. As much as I love creating new characters, some people don’t, and new players can be intimidated by too many options, especially if they see that some of those options (maybe the ones they really wanted to play) gated by expansion paywalls. Elite Specs further complicate the issue; assuming we add one new class and one elite spec to all of the existing classes, the new class is always going to be one behind, since it wasn’t around for the Heart of Thorns wave of elite specs. None of these things prevent them from creating new races or classes, but right now it certainly seems like it will get less likely with each expansion.

More Elite Specs
I’m pretty sure this is a given at this point. I really like almost all of the classes in Guild Wars 2 as they stand, but more choice is always better. I love the idea of being able to make major changes to the way my class plays based on what spec I choose. Classes get a new weapon, several new slot skills, and sometimes even end up being able to fill a new role (most notably the ranger’s druid spec). It’s a nice middle ground between the rigid classes of more WoW-like MMOs and the overwhelming amount of customization available in games like Rift and Elder Scrolls Online. Right now there is only one elite spec for each class, and it’s almost universally better–at least for PvE–to have your elite spec slotted, even if you don’t use the weapon that it gives. But very soon that’s all going to change, and I’m excited to see what unfolds.

More Masteries, Less Grind
I like that Guild Wars 2 has chosen to not bump up the level cap with its expansions. Level cap bumps only serve to invalidate old gear and make old content irrelevant, especially in a game with level scaling. The problem is that you really need some kind of mechanic that slows players down, a brake that keeps players from simply binging through the story and coming out feeling unsatisfied. That mechanic should be fun, and Heart of Thorn’s mastery grind wasn’t particularly fun. There were a couple of problems. First was that, if you knew what masteries you needed to progress in the story ahead of time, you could focus on those masteries as you went, and it didn’t feel so much like the game was saying “ok, now stop and grind to an arbitrary level before continuing.” But there was no way for you to know unless you looked up a guide or talked to a friend who had already been through it. The Living World stories did better at pointing out the elite spec before you ran into its gate, so hopefully the new expansion will do the same. Second, I think the system would work better if there were a whole bunch of little masteries that cost one or two mastery points each instead of each tier costing more, up to twelve for the really high end ones. I know that’s probably easier said than done, but I think it would give a better sense of progress and feel less grindy.

Flatter Zones
My biggest annoyance with Heart of Thorns was not the mastery grind, it was getting around those awful zones. There are so many sheer walls and layers on top of each other that the map is practically useless for navigating. Auric Basin isn’t bad, Verdant Brink would be tolerable if there weren’t random mastery- and hero points that you have to glide to from a boss fight in the sky, but Tangled Depths is the absolute worst. I basically only go there for the story and if I’ve absolutely run out of reasonably doable hero points in the other zones. Add to that the fact that the number of waypoints per zone in these areas is about a third was it was in the vanilla game, none of them near where you’re likely to die, and it’s just an overall frustrating experience getting around in the newer zones. Masteries make it a little easier to get around, but even with them it’s incredibly frustrating. I think ArenaNet has learned their lesson from Heart of Thorns, as the Season 3 maps have been a lot easier to get around in. Draconis Mons is the only zone with a lot of layers, and with the grappling hook-like Oakheart’s Reach mastery, it’s actually fun to get around.

A Story About Something Other Than Dragons
Two stories in a row about dragons is fine. Whatever. But there’s so much more you could do! If the living world story is any indication, I may be getting my wish, but I’m still not convinced they won’t throw a random fight with Kralkatorrik in there just for good measure. Oh, but [minor spoilers] don’t kill him, because apparently killing dragons is bad for the environment or something.

Old Shcool RuneScape: Apparently, You Can Come Home Again


The year was 2007. I was almost done with high school, and MMOs were the big thing with my gamer friends. By this time, most of my friends had moved on to World of Warcraft, but I was still sticking around the first MMO I ever played, RuneScape. I had played for nearly three years at this point, and would continue to do so for a few years after. As updates rolled by, I never thought I’d be returning to this simpler time, at least in some fashion.

Ten years later, I’ve long since moved on, and so has the game. I go back and revisit most MMOs and other games I played in my younger days, but RuneScape, for whatever reason, has never been one of them. I’ve tried a few times, but every time I do, I feel like the game has changed too much to appeal to my nostalgia, and doesn’t have enough to offer beyond that to keep me there. I heard a few years ago that Jagex had found an old full backup copy of the code from 2007 and had set up some “Old School” servers for members. Apparently, at some point, it was also made available for free-to-play players, which probably would have had me back a long time ago, but whatever. Twitch Prime’s free-thing-of-the-month last month included a month of subscription time to RuneScape and I thought to myself “what the heck, it’s free. Sure, I’ll go poke around Old School for a month. I’m only playing three or four MMOs right now, what’s one more?”

I had 99 fishing and cooking in the live game. It’s weird fishing for level 1 shrimp again… and burning half of them.

The copy of the Old School code did not, sadly, include characters, so I had to start over with a fresh character. Honestly, though, as much as I miss being able to teleport around the world and kill anything under level 100 without thinking twice, I think I prefer it this way. All of those little noob experiences–killing chickens, mining copper and tin in the Dwarven Mine, getting two-shotted by the dark wizards at the south entrance to Varrock–are part of the nostalgia trip. As I’m wandering around the game, I realize how awful the new player experience really was. They dump you off in Lumbridge after a tutorial that covers about five skills, and doesn’t really tell you where you can go to practice them after the tutorial is over. From there, it’s really easy to die, and when you do die, you lose all but your three most valuable items (by vendor value). There also isn’t a fast or even automatic way to get from place to place. Sure, things aren’t super spread out, but click-to-move gets old after a while. The graphics are awful even for 2007, the controls are functional but awkward, some of the skills are worthless (seriously, who thought “firemaking” was a good idea for a skill? Especially in a world with always-on cooking ranges that a have better chance of successfully cooking stuff?), and those that are useful require more mindless grinding than any reasonable person would be willing to put up with before they can do anything cool. Even combat isn’t that fun; it’s mostly watching your character auto attack the other character, eating food to heal when your health gets low. The map isn’t even available in-game; you have to download it as an image from the website. If I had never played this game years ago and I came across it now, there’s no way I would stay more than an hour or two. So why am I playing it? Because it simply feels like home. I know every corner of this world, and even now I can navigate it better than my home town in most cases. I remember the badly synthesized MIDI music so vividly, and so much of it makes me smile every time it comes on. Also, back in the day it seemed only natural to have to spend large amounts of time doing repetitive tasks, and I think the game would feel somehow cheapened without it.

Old School RuneScape is also a little surreal, since it’s no longer an exact copy of the game I played in 2007. New features have been, and continue to be, added to keep the game fresh. So there are some things that I remember–such as the dungeoneering and summoning skills–that aren’t in this version of the game, but there are also some things that are in this version of the game that I’ve never seen before. It’s like playing a parallel universe version of a game from ten years ago.

This experience gives me a new appreciation for players who are fans of emulator servers for EverQuest, classic WoW, Star Wars Galaxies, and the like (though no sympathy for those who do so against the wishes of the IP holders). I don’t know if I’ll stick around Old School RuneScape, but at the moment it feels really tempting.

Looking Back At April, Ahead To May

April turned out to be a busy and stressful month for me, with a lot of short gaming sessions and not much worth writing about. Still, I covered a lot of ground, so I thought I’d check in with what I’ve been doing.

Master X Master
So this one was a surprise. I’m not really into MOBAs at all, and when I saw this title announced, I pretty much ignored it. It’s just NCsoft jumping on the bandwagon, right? Yawn. But, to prove the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, in the midst of the announcement of Statesman as a playable character, and the (predictable and wholly understandable) outrage that followed, I heard some people talking about how great its PvE game is. Bite-sized PvE dungeon runs with a wide variety of characters/classes? That I can get excited about. I felt a little bad for supporting a game that stomped all over what little hope there was for a City of Heroes revival (not that there was much hope to stomp on at this point), but I’m really glad I tried it. My favorite moment was running the Ascalonian Catacombs Dimensional Rift, which is surprisingly accurate to the Guild Wars 2 dungeon. I’ve never played any of NCsoft’s other games, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the dungeons from their games, but this one really impressed me. I’m considering buying a founder’s pack, but we’ll see.

The Elder Scrolls Online
Apparently controversy has been following me around the MMOverse this month, because I managed to get back into ESO right as a big kerfuffle erupted involving a bunch of nerfs coming with the expansion, which many players believe are simply to prop up the new Warden class. I’m a super casual ESO player, so maybe I’d be more bothered by this if it was one of my main games, but it seems to me that this is mostly just MMO players complaining about MMO class balance. Nothing new to see here. Honestly, I’m not too worried about it; MMO class balance is always in flux. What’s good this month won’t be next month and vice versa. That’s the great thing about MMOs; there’s always a chance for studios to fix their mistakes (and make new ones). What is different about it is that, back in my day, players would go to the forums and throw a temper tantrum until they hit the post size limit, and the average person didn’t really notice unless they went to the forums looking for it. Nowadays, with the popularity and accessibility of streaming and YouTube videos, certain players have been given much higher visibility than they used to have (some of them were even promoted by Zenimax, according to someone in zone chat), and when those players ragequit, people notice.
Ironically, the classes getting hit hardest with the nerfbat are the healer templar and the stamina DPS nightblade, which are my two main characters, but I’m not worried because the Warden looks super fun and I would probably be dropping my current characters in favor of the Warden even if it was garbage. At the rate I progress through ESO content, there will probably be two or three balance patches before I get half way through the expansion anyway.

Lord of the Rings Online
I started out strong with LotRO in April, but ended up tapering off in favor of Elder Scrolls later in the month. Man, I forgot how clunky the Legendary Item system is. It’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t seem very well designed. I did make it back for some of the anniversary festivities. I’m too low level for most of the 10th year scavenger hunt stuff, but I did the usual firework launching and pub brawling activities. I’m excited that this year’s mount selection included a fast goat. I’m all set for Moria now!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’ve been playing Zelda a lot lately, more than I expected. I “beat” the game (that is, finished the final boss), more because I didn’t want to go into it super overpowered than for the actual feeling of completion. I’ve continued to put a decent amount of time into it, and I’m still discovering new things. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m pretty sure this is my new favorite single player game from Nintendo. Yes, I think I even prefer it to Metroid Prime, which is saying something (though Metroid can feel free to take that title back any time now…).

Mass Effect Andromeda
I became a big Mass Effect fan fairly recently, and binged through the trilogy. I was pretty excited when Andromeda was announced, with its return to its RPG roots and more open, explorable maps, but it really hasn’t drawn me in. I like the game, but it just doesn’t grab me the way I thought it would. I don’t know if it’s the writing, or the design, or even just the awkward interface and longish load screens, but something about it just feels less engaging than the other games in the series. Granted, it took me a while to warm up to the beginning of some of the other games as well, so maybe I just need to push through, but so far I’ve put way less time in this game than I expected.

Plans for May
So that’s what I did in April. In May, I’d like to get more time in Elder Scrolls Online, hopefully getting a character to cap by the time Morrowind comes out. I’d also like to get some more time in LotRO, hopefully digging a little deeper into Moria (pun intended). Guild Wars 2 will certainly get some time as well, with the new Living World episode and accompanying zone to explore. Star Wars the Old Republic has been calling to me, as it often does when I play another BioWare game, but I’m more interested in playing through the story and then leaving than actually doing anything MMOish. I also just recently found out that OldSchool RuneScape is available to free players (it probably has been for a while, but when it launched it was originally going to be for subscribers only and didn’t realize that had changed), so I’ve been toying with the idea of giving that a try. Trying to go back to the live game is, for whatever reason, completely uninteresting to me, but going back to the game I knew and loved more than ten (!) years ago sounds appealing. I don’t know if I’ll ever sub up, but it would be fun to roam the world and noob it up for a while.

Why Do MMOs Hate Summoners?

Ultrons EverywhereMaybe it’s because I cut my teeth on RTSes before I even had an always-on Internet connection, but I’ve always liked the idea of summoner classes in RPGs. Hunter style pets are all well and good, but how much better would it be to have four or five or fifteen little minions following you around? In games like Marvel Heroes, I gravitate toward characters like Squirrel Girl, Iceman, and Ultron who involve a lot of pet management. In Torchlight II I played the Engineer because of his various bots, and one of the first mods I got into was a necromancer class. Yet in the MMO realm, I almost never play summoner types because they’re almost universally lame. For instance, in Guild Wars 2, the Necromancer has the potential to summon a horde of pets, but they don’t heal out of combat, and there’s a longish cooldown to resummon them, which is just annoying, and also they’re not really as good as just focusing on DoTs or direct damage. And, as far as I know, they’ve only gotten worse since I’ve been playing. The same can be said for the much smaller number of summonables that the guardian, elementalist, and engineer get. It’s the same story in just about every MMO I play; summoning playstyles either aren’t available or focusing on them severely reduces your damage output.

Supposedly, a lot of this is due to technical limitations; if everyone had an army of pets running around it would put too much load on the server and clients. First of all, I’ve used the “technical limitations” excuse myself, and nine times out of ten it’s simply programmerspeak for “I didn’t optimize my code well enough, and now it’s too hard to go back and fix it.” Second, aren’t they basically just NPCs that fight for players instead of against them? I know this is a gross oversimplification of something I don’t fully understand, but still, if the problem is purely one of technical limitations, shouldn’t summoners be getting more and more common as technology progresses, not less?

More plausible is that it’s more an issue of balance. In the tenuous and ever changing ecosystem that is MMO balance, I can imagine why tuning one-versus-one fights would be easier than tuning one-versus-five-little-things fights, and I can imagine it gets steadily more complicated the more players and enemies you throw into the mix; pets are part player, part DoT, and part AoE, and aren’t always predictable, especially in group settings. Still, it seems like, of all the various MMOs we have out there today–especially with so many that don’t seem to put much thought into balance–someone should have done it.

Thinking about this makes me all the more sad that I never got to play City of Heroes/Villains, as the Mastermind looks like it would be exactly what I’m looking for. Sadly I will never know, and, because NCsoft decided to rub salt in the wound by adding one of their least popular characters to their new MOBA, whatever small chance there was of an indie studio ever reviving it is pretty much dead. Hopefully one of these fan-made City of Heroes clones will pan out to be decent, but I’m not holding my breath.

WildStar: Where It All Went Wrong For Me


I count WildStar among my favorite MMOs. The combat is fun, the housing is great, the setting and lore are original and different, I run around in a Samus costume on a DeLorean hoverboard, what’s not to love? And yet I haven’t played regularly for months, and that really saddens me. I recently went back for the free level 50 character, and it got me thinking about just where it all went wrong.

The biggest reason why I quit playing was that my guild broke up. There was no drama, we just had trouble getting critical mass for raids, and the two main leaders really wanted to raid, so they left, and from there it just kind of fell apart. While I’m glad it didn’t go up in smoke and petty bickering, it was no less sad, since I really liked a lot of the people in the guild, who have now gone in a bunch of different directions. This isn’t the game’s fault, but it was probably the biggest reason why I left.

Closely related to that is the fact that there isn’t a whole lot to do after you reach endgame if you don’t have a guild. This problem isn’t unique to WildStar–some might say that it’s inherent to all MMOs to some degree–but even most of the dailies require some sort of group content (dungeons, adventures, shiphands, etc.). Arcterra requires only small groups of people, so at least you can usually do the easy dailies there with only a few random people you bump into during peak hours. Even housing is easier if you have a guild, since a lot of the nicer stuff costs prestige (which can be obtained from a variety of sources, but group content dispenses it the fastest), and raid gear is where the real money is in the game. I’m sure I’ll find a new guild sooner or later, but I’ve always hated guild shopping.

Massively OP’s Eliot recently visited WildStar for the site’s Choose My Adventure series. In his wrap-up post, he made the comment that, “in many ways, when I write about WildStar now, I’m still writing about the launch version of the game.” While he goes on to say some things I don’t agree with, this line really struck me as exactly the problem. There are a lot of little annoyances and bugs that have been in the game since I played it in beta and are still there almost three years later. Sometimes I can’t right-click on a quest on my tracker, and I have to click a bunch of other things to get away from it. Sometimes tooltips get stuck on. Certain mobs reset if you pull them a few feet away from where they spawn. That dumb DDR minigame in Thayd that you can only complete once and it will never let you back on. None of these are big issues–if I had to choose one or the other, I’d rather have more content than have these small annoyances fixed–but it still hurts the overall experience.

Overall, I think WildStar is a great game that started out with some missteps that could have been corrected, but sadly Carbine never managed to turn the Titanic. A lot of that had to do with lack of funding, some of it seems to have been the fault of a studio that was not designed to be agile and responsive to change. I don’t want the negative tone of this post to come across the wrong way. I think the negativity surrounding the game also plays a large part in my lack of attention to it. I love WildStar. If it wasn’t such an incredibly fun game, this post wouldn’t exist; the answer for where it all went wrong would be that the game was lame, and that’s not worth writing about. I really want to go back to WildStar and see it succeed and keep cranking out content for years to come. I don’t know if that will happen, but hopefully my boosted level 50 warrior will be the incentive I need to get back into the game.