WoW: Joining the Dark Side

WoW Sith
I never thought I’d say this, but last night I created a World of Wacraft account. Oh sure, it was the free-up-to-level-20 Starter Edition, but I’m seriously considering subscribing.

Why? The only reason there is for subscribing to WoW in this age of excellent free-to-play and buy-to-play titles: Jeremy Soule did the soundtrack for Mist of Pandaria. Just kidding, I refer, of course, to the fact that I have a friend who’s been trying to get me to play forever. My friend, who I rarely get to see anymore, has heard Azeroth irresistibly calling to him to return yet again, and this time, rather than make fun of him for never trying anything new (I’ve tried to get him to play just about every MMO I’ve ever been through, and he’s almost always turned me down), I decided to take the plunge with him.

It’s strange actually being in this game I’ve seen and read and know so much about, and yet have never personally experienced. Just about everyone I know that plays MMOs has played WoW. WoW was the game that, circa 2006, everyone left RuneScape for. I didn’t want to pay the three times higher subscription fee, so I contently stayed there, harboring just a little vague resentment toward WoW. Later, when games like LotRO started going F2P, I moved on to things that didn’t cost me money. I must say that I’ve taken some pride in being that one guy who’s been playing MMOs nonstop since 2005, but has never played WoW. I’m really not sure how I feel about giving that up. It kind of feels like selling out, but I can’t really give a good reason as to why. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, if I don’t at least give WoW a try, I am, in a way, just as irrational as someone who won’t play anything but WoW.

So, my first impressions? It feels… old. I’ll probably be tried and convicted for the high crime of being a WoW hater for saying this, but I feel like it hasn’t really aged very well at all. I’m perfectly willing to believe it’s because I know it’s old, but from the way every WoW player talks about the game I went in expecting to be wowed (pun only somewhat intended) by how perfect everything was. Character customization is pretty slim. Heck, RuneScape had more options than this when I first played in 2005 (granted, there are a lot of races, so there’s that, but couldn’t I at least adjust my character’s height or build?), and even with the recent character model redesigns, I’m still not impressed by the graphics. The interface feels a little cluttered. The settings menu isn’t organized very well (I spent a good five minutes or more trying to figure out if there was a way to stop my character from yelling at me because his spell was in cooldown when I hit it a second early or late, as I tend to mash the key a few times, and I still haven’t figured out how to move the buff/debuff box under my character portrait where it belongs). Also painful is the fact that I keep reverting to Guild Wars 2 mode and trying to run around the target while casting, either getting the “can’t cast while moving” message or worse, interrupting myself (I quickly switched to a Paladin, a class with mostly instant casts). And then there’s the miles of quest text they give you as motivation to go kill five rats. I know, I know, I’m totally spoiled by modern fully-voiced games, it’s true. But isn’t the operative word there modern? It really kills my momentum to stop and read stuff, and the temptation is so strong to just skip it and grind on. The writing had better be good later on or I, like so many players before me, am probably never going to do much more than skim any of it.

Perhaps the worst mechanic, one that I thought even WoW would have dropped by now, is mob tapping, the idea that, as soon as you do damage to something, you own it until one of you is dead and no one else can get quest progress, XP, or drops from it. I’ve heard the argument that it’s somehow supposed to encourage people to group up (something you can’t do as a starter), but to me it simply removes all incentive to help other players. If I’m supposed to form a temporary group to kill things for one quest, how is that different from open tapping? What’s worse is when there’s exactly one specific, unique person I need to kill for a quest (and believe me, those Blood Elves have a thing for bringing peoples’ severed heads to them). I must have waited 10 minutes to one-shot some loser elf, impatiently waiting my turn among a crowd of other “newbies” (mostly in heirloom gear with that obnoxious orc chauffeur motorcycle) also waiting to kill said elf. And this was on a medium population server. It got better as I moved farther away from the starting point, but it’s still an incredibly frustrating mechanic that, in my opinion, has no place in a modern MMO.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the game or anything. There are a lot of nice touches. The voice toasts when you click on NPCs, for instance. In a game where you’re stuck skipping reading pages of questgiver text, they’ve done a nice job of having a nice array of voice clips to give you something to go on. Similarly, Blizzard has always done a great job of giving different races unique personalities. You can almost guess the character’s race simply by reading what they said to you. Also, capes. It’s silly, but I’ve missed capes since going to games like SWTOR and GW2. Why GW2 hasn’t included capes yet is still a mystery to me. I mean, I get that cloth physics simulation is hard and all, but a good cape looks way cooler than a rose growing out of your back or those dumb flappy wings. Perhaps the most appealing advantage of WoW is its extremely well developed endgame. As someone who much prefers the journey to the destination, even I find this appealing. It’s something that’s often a little lacking in F2P/B2P games, and I wouldn’t mind running on the gear treadmill for a little while.

My biggest fear with the game is that I won’t find it worth my monthly $15. Honestly, if I didn’t know anyone who was playing, there’s no way I would even be interested at this point. But I’ve spent a lot more than $15 in a month to spend time with friends, so I guess it’s not unreasonable to just be a social WoW player.

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Travelog: DC Universe Online

This is a part of my MMO Tourism series. For more information on the series, click here.

Opening Comments
I thought it would be apropos for my first blog post under its new name, Occasional Hero, to be a superhero MMO. DC Universe Online is a game that somehow never caught my interest. I’m certainly not opposed to superheroes or anything–I have seen and enjoyed most of the perennial Marvel and DC movies and such–but the idea of a superhero MMO doesn’t excite me in and of itself. DCUO went F2P while my college career was ramping up, so I didn’t have much time to sample new free-to-plays, and also had the unfortunate timing of being right before the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, for which I was very excited. That said, as I mentioned last time, I’m really sick of fantasy, so any other setting would be preferable at this point. And there are a lot of things I like about comic books, like the way they throw together a bunch of characters that don’t really make sense together and make it work. In a world without comic books, who would believe that a movie about a Norse god, an arrogant millionaire in a Chozo powersuit, a scientist who gets really strong when he’s angry, and a guy who’s really good at shooting arrows would be one of the most successful and hyped movies of all time, raking in over 1.5 billion dollars and shattering a bunch of box office records in the process?

I’ve played a few other superhero MMOs, and none of them were that great. Champions Online had a cool character creator, but sadly that was the most I had in that game. Marvel Heroes was entertaining for a while, and I still pop in and play every so often, but it lacks substance. Hopefully DC has a better showing. Sadly, I missed out on City of Heroes/Villains. The way everyone talked about it when the plug was pulled made me wish I had, but of course at that point it was too late.

Character Creation and Customization
The character creator has a lot of nice variety to it. I can think of no other MMO that lets me choose between playing as a humanoid fox, wolf, zombie, cyborg, or crystal. I find it interesting that you choose your super powers and weapons before customizing your character’s appearance. I’m not sure if they’re trying to be different, if they think this shows an emphasis on combat versus looks, or if I’m reading too much in to it and they just did it that way because it was convenient for them.
Weapons seem more important than super powers, but lack description. Are some more tanking focused? Damage focused? Do some synergize better with certain powers? I just had to guess, but I like the idea of a highly customizable character.

The character customization interface is somewhat clunky and unintuitive. There are a lot of menus to drill down through, and it’s easy to get lost in them. For instance, when you click Customize, you can choose Skin, Gear, and Colors. When you click Gear at this stage, you can customize the looks of your various pieces of gear. But if you choose colors, there’s another Gear button. On more than one occasion I tried to back out of the Colors menu to change some of my gear and ended up going to the gear color changing menu. I don’t understand why I couldn’t just choose the colors on the same menu where I choose the gear. Perhaps worse is trying to choose a men’s hairstyle. Rather than having hair and facial hair be separate options, you have to scroll through every possible permutation of hair/mustache/beard possible.

My guess is that the reason for the poor interface is that it was designed with the console port in mind. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. Speaking of minor annoyances, I’m also a little annoyed that i can’t customize my character’s face. I’m guessing that the developers thought it wouldn’t be important since most of the head gear consists of masks that cover the face. Super heroes are supposed to be anonymous anyway, right?

I ended up with flight (which was a great choice), nature power (a healing role), and the staff weapon. As previously mentioned, I have no idea if these work together. I chose them solely on the basis of the fact that they looked cool. Here’s Biomimetic Lifeform.

Hi

Yes, I know, I’ve been watching too much Star Trek lately (if that’s even possible).

Tutorial
The opening cutscene is nothing short of epic. It makes you wonder the whole time why every hero in the Justice League is getting their you-know-what handed to them. Then, just as Luthor has finished off every DC superhero you’ve ever heard of, he realizes there’s a bigger threat. Then you’re introduced to the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff; the game takes place in an alternate universe where Luthor has traveled back in time and used Braniac technology to infuse a bunch of random normal people with super powers. It’s an ingenious explanation of why there are suddenly thousands of supers you’ve never heard of (i.e. players) running around.

I really enjoy the animated comic book-style cutscenes. “These humans resist my assimilation.” Humans seem to be pretty good at that in just about any universe. I guess I’m not the only one who’s been watching a lot of Star Trek. Speaking of Star Trek, is Brianiac… voiced by… William… Shatner? Thus far the voice acting has been pretty unimpressive. Hopefully it’ll get better, but I’ve played games with mediocre voice acting before (I’m looking at you, Guild Wars 2) and it hasn’t bothered me too much, so I think I’ll survive. The tutorial itself is pretty standard; attack some trash mobs that are no threat to you whatsoever, level up once or twice and learn how to slot skills, equip gear, etc. You’re dropped into a Braniac ship and guided by Oracle (Oracle is a superhero? More like supervillain… I knew from the moment they bought Sun Microsystems that… wait, sorry, different Oracle) to the mandatory incredibly-easy-to-destroy weak spot of the ship. Seriously, haven’t you seen Star Wars? Finally, Superman appears and there’s a kind of bonus round where you fight alongside him to defeat all of the evil (and extremely weak) robots. I’m pretty sure I could just stand in a corner and let him beat down all of the bad guys, but who hasn’t dreamed of being Superman’s temporary sidekick?

General Gameplay
Biomimetic CombatWhen I first stepped into DCUO and started messing around with the combat, I groaned. It’s basically the same as The Elder Scrolls Online’s combat; aim with the mouse, click to attack, blow a few cooldowns now and then. They also both have console versions, which also makes me nervous. How dumbed down will it be so it can be played with a controller? I was pleasantly surprised to find my fears unjustified, however. DCUO isn’t just “click to attack, hold to attack harder” like The Elder Scrolls Online. First of all, the left button is always melee and the right button is always ranged, regardless of weapon. Holding the mouse button activates, not just a stronger attack, but a different attack. For instance, with the staff weapon, holding the left button makes your character jump to his target and attack, and holding the right button shoots a projectile related to your superpower (in my case a ball of thorny plant mass), which is a nice touch. What makes DCUO’s combat even better than TESO’s is the combo system. As you level you can put points into your weapon skills, adding passive bonuses to existing attacks, or creating new combos you can do by executing a series of left or right clicks and hold clicks.

Biomimetic FlyingMoving around in DCU is a pleasure, especially when you choose the flight power. I especially like that my “Tech Wings” actually flap when I fly. The first thing I did when I exited the tutorial? Flew straight up until I hit the top of the game. The second thing? Turned off my flight power and dropped like a rock. Fortunately for our hero, there is no fall damage in DCUO. Seriously, though, why would you choose any other power? If you do, acrobatics and super speed allow you to run up walls (and some ceilings) and jump really far, so it’s not like there’s a lot you can’t access. Also, is it just me or does “Acrobatics” turn you in to Spider-Man? Whoops, wrong universe. I also like how your movement power gives you combat abilities later on. I’m guessing that flight’s powers are super nerfed, because otherwise I feel like everyone would choose it. Maybe that’s just me.

What was unique about this game?
I think the most unique thing about this game is its console version. It’s the only major MMO (other than the ill-fated Final Fantasy XIV) that I know of that launched both on the PC and on 7th-gen consoles (feel free to correct me if I’m forgetting something). I took it for a spin on my PS3, and it actually plays remarkably well. The only problem is that I feel like the hotkey skills would get frustrating, but I guess it could also be seen as an element of strategic planning ahead. Perhaps this calls for more investigation.

Also unique is the combat. This is the farthest thing from a WoW-like MMORPG that I’ve ever seen that I think still belongs in the same category. I don’t think every MMO should try to emulate it, but if you’re an action game fan, this is the MMO for you.

F2P Model
DC Universe’s F2P is pretty much the same story as most MMOs these days. They started out subscription-only, and, after about a year, they added a free-to-play option. Like many games, free accounts get access to pretty much what the game launched with, with “DLC” (which we used to call expansions back in my day) unlocking new areas, story content, and classes. I had a hard time finding a features matrix, which made me a little nervous, but the only big downsides I can see for F2P players is limitations on classes and zones (unlocked with DLC) and a currency cap. I can’t really offer an opinion as to whether or not either is ridiculous, as I’m not very far in the game.

Would I play again?
Surprisingly, yes… but probably not on a regular basis. Going in, I didn’t think I would like this one. I played the Elder Scrolls Online beta and hated its take on “action combat,” so I figured this would be similar. But I found myself really enjoying beating things up in DCUO. Maybe it’s the pace, or maybe it’s the addition of combos and more slot skills. Or maybe it’s just because it’s not set in yet another generic fantasy world. Either way, I think I’ll be visiting Metropolis again in the future.

Travelog: Wildstar Beta

This is a part of my MMO Tourism series. For more information on the series, click here.

Opening Comments
First of all, let’s open with some comments on the state of the MMO space to date. Like it or not, World of Warcraft is king. It has the most players, has been around longer than anything still running with the exception of EverQuest and perhaps a few more obscure titles, and is without a doubt the most recognizable MMO title. MMORPGs now fall into two categories: WoW clones, and not-quite-WoW-clones. There have been many games that have tried to take them on, but no one has really succeeded. Some have even directly attacked the MMO giant (and, debatably, failed spectacularly). But I’m going to go on record here and say that if any game to date can take on WoW, it’s Wildstar. This game takes all of the ideas that I like from Guild Wars 2 and all of the ideas I like from WoW-like games and mashes them together.

Also, I know I’m starting this project off on the wrong foot by playing a subscription-based game, but it was in free open beta last week, so I figured it technically counts. Anyways, let’s make a character, shall we?
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F2P MMO Tourism

So I’ve had a bit of a lull in the various games I play lately, so I thought I’d try something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time now. I’ve seen various bloggers call it various things, but I’m calling it MMO Tourism. Basically, I’m going to give a variety of free-to-play MMOs I’ve never played before (or only played briefly) a try. I’ll create a character and do at least the tutorial and the first zone or two. Then I’ll write a shortish travelog about my experience. Bio Break did this about a year ago, and while I was compiling my list of games to try, I noticed Why I Game started a “game hopping vacation” as well. (I know I’ve seen this a few other places, but those were the only ones I could dig up) I’ve enjoyed reading other peoples’ exploration of strange new MMOs, I hope someone else does too.

My format for these posts will go something like this:

  • Opening Comments
  • Commentary on character customization, races, classes, etc.
  • Tutorial
  • General gameplay thoughts
  • What was unique about this game?
  • Comments on F2P model
  • Would I play again, and why?

So far, I have these games lined up:
Wildstar Beta
EverQuest 2
Dungeons & Dragons Online
Neverwinter
Champions Online
DC Universe

I may do these games as well if I find I like this format and/or based on feedback (note some of these are pay gate):
Order & Chaos
Landmark
Guild Wars 1
SWTOR (Haven’t played this since the expansion(s))
RuneScape (My first MMO, but haven’t played this in years… kind of afraid to go back for fear that it’ll be too depressing with all the changes)
Path of Exile
EverQuest 1

I plan on trying for one a week. Any other suggestions on free MMOs to try out?

Check the MMO Tourism tag for updates!