I Like World of Tanks

TL;DR; I thought I’d cut to the chase for those of you who aren’t really interested in the chit chat.  I like the game.

There I was, minding my own business procrastinating at work and I saw the Massively blurb about World of Tanks going open beta.  This is a title I was not exactly following.  First the whole “World of..” thing made me suspect.  Then I assumed that a F2P pseudo-mmo-rts-shooter would have to be rather arcadey.

I dabbled with ThinkTanks quite a while ago (and a friend basically ended up adopting a new lifestyle because of it… but more on that later) and while entertaining, found it too gamey and arcadey.

So, tanks as a computer genre made me suspect.  However, I’m a history buff, a bit of an old school wargamer and on Wilhelm’s recommendation, started reading Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 recently.  So being curious, the WoT beta got me.

I’m pretty impressed.  Make no mistake, this is no MMO as we know it.  There is a progression element which means there is some persistency, but its basically a battleground based game.  But calling it merely a BG based game is giving it short shrift.  Clearly for Wargaming.net this is a bit of a labor of love.   The environments– various WWII battle environments– are nicely rendered.  The progression elements, familiar to RTS gamers, involve researching and unlocking various technologies that provide a progression mechanic.  Unlike RTS games, the progression is persistent and the progression occurs as a result of battles rather than during them.

The element that has me hooked is the strategic component.  This is no zerg, die, respawn, zerg, die lather repeat shooter game.  When you are killed in a battle, you stay dead.  You have free camera at that point to see what your teammates are doing, but one death and you’re out.  This has wonderful implications.  First, people get very risk averse and have to start thinking strategically.  This is a good thing.  Second, many elements contribute to a successful endeavor.  This is not simply a slug fest among dinosaurs where “bigger is better and bigger is best“.  While certainly mano-a-mano this may be true, in a strategic environment, rock paper and scissors all have their role.  Of course, the 15 on 15 maps and timer make the one death rule bearable.  I was frustrated for about 15 seconds before I realized, hey this could be very cool.  Lots of opportunities for “emergent gameplay.”

I’ve been recently exploring the role of artillery.  Fragile, reclusive and reliant on others spotter abilities, you are able to rain death from above all across the map.  Great stuff.  And a great way to contribute to a team effort.

What WoT has managed to capture for me is a fun thoughtful focused game with battles that range anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes (there is a timer afterall) that never plays the same twice.  As a free to play offering, I can easily see myself popping in from time to time to continue my endeavors.  With a familiar group or clan and voice chat, this would be a great way to spend an evening.

The game also doesn’t suffer from some of the usual MMO pain– with currently three main factions– U.S, Soviet and German, progression through each tech tree to unlock increasingly powerful or specialized units require just that– progressing through each tree.  A plus and a minus, faction defines your “current progression” but teams on a battlefield map are made up of roughly balanced members from all factions– German Tigers can play with Soviet T-34s and U.S. Shermans on the same team.   What makes it interesting is the interplay between the strengths and weaknesses of each– and with a mix and match random battle paradigm, replayability is very high even with the same maps (currently about 15 or so that vary in size from relatively small urban encounters to larger open field ones).

I’m currently exploring Soviet self-propelled guns.  I can see that I’d also like to ultimately unlock the venerable T-34 which will require my progression down a different branch of the tree.  Likewise, if I want to pursue U.S. or German tank play, I’ll need to work those trees from top to bottom.

Obviously not a game for everyone, but for those of us who enjoyed army men, old school strategy games and RTS games, I think there is something there for us.  I for one will not be afraid to throw some real money their way when the game releases.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to work on my pathetic tanker skills.  Good job Wargaming.net.  I like.

Trout Master

Behold, the Trout Master.

Damn, I had my eyes closed

For no apparent reason, I’ve become enamoured with Lotro’s fishing.  I’ll leave it to Wil’s theory crafting as to the grander role of fishing in MMO’s.  I’ve dabbled a bit with fishing in EQ2, but only really spent any significant time fishing in WoW.  And even then only really as a means to speed level cooking.

Lotro’s fishing has a few distinguishing features I find interesting.  First, like all things grindy in Lotro (e.g., virtues), there is a daily limit in how much you can increment the skill in question.  Despite your best efforts, one may not level from start to the cap in a day.  Fishing permits an increment of 10 skill points on a 1-200 scale daily.  For anyone interested in exploring Lotro fishing, check out the Angler’s Guide to Fishing in Lotro.

At first that bugged me, then I adjusted.  Smell the roses, etc.  Second, despite the relatively simplistic mechanics (click to cast, click to retrieve, not much else) the actual fishing animations are quite nice with a classic red/white bobber kerplunking into the water and fish under the water’s surface circling the bait and striking.

Of course, most of the catch is vendor trash, although a few (though much less than WoW) are inputs for the Cooking trade skill.  Others, however are trophy fish.  These fish you can turn in to a taxidermist to be mounted on a plaque and then hung on your wall.

Of course, to hang them on a wall requires a wall upon which they may be hung.  Mrs. P and I threw down for standard houses early on if for no other reason that the house vault which is in effect shared storage (both among your own characters and, if you choose, your kinship).  With several alts, a small kinship and relatively high postage costs, this made quite a bit of sense for several of us to purchase houses.  Enaldie (Mrs. P), Silinus (Wilhelm2451) and I purchased adjacent houses in the same neighborhood and freely drop tradeskill materials in each others houses, but I digress.

Likewise, a full discussion of player housing in MMOs is WELL beyond this post, but deserving.  TL, DR, Lotro is fair, but EQ2 (see, e.g., Saylah’s posts) kicks ass.  (P.s., I’ve stopped by your shop in EQ2X Saylah and it is fantastically awesome.  I wish there was a guest book to sign…).

Yes, the fishing trophies are “small wall” items of which there are several “hooks” in the standard house.  The wee ones such as the Magnificent Minnow or Giant Goldfish are amusing in that they should come with a magnifying glass so as to distinguish the mounted fish from a speck of dust on the plaque.  As one progresses, however, the trophy fish do grow in size.  I can easily see populating the walls in a larger house with several trophies.

One can advance in skill by simply fishing wherever you are up to a point.  Thus, fishing literally off my doorstep in the stream in the housing township would result in skill ups early on.  Soon, however, you’ll want to seek more challenging species are located in higher level areas to continue advancement, so I quickly found myself looking for a better fishing hole.

With a house in the Bree Land Homesteads, I was fairly close to the Lone Lands, so I headed out to the Last Bridge (no Beryl in sight).  Apparently there is no fishing from the last bridge, so as a high level 20’s character I gingerly ventured across into the Trollshaws.

Sticking close to the bridge presents little danger and several opportunities for scenic vistas, so I settled into the zen of Lotro fishing in the River Mitheithel.  Not only did my skill ups increase, but I quickly discovered the Trout Master deed.  At first I thought, ho hum, another amusing title (not that I don’t enjoy them).  Then I realized that the attainment of the title also rewarded the Trout Group Trophy as seen above.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout.  Fishing is fun and all, but that is a really nice plaque.  Sure it didnt’ take very long, but stuff like that has a way of setting the hook, so to speak and sucking one in.  No idea whether I’ll ever see the 50-Pound Salmon, but with fun rewards like this, its certainly worth the effort to me.

Queue Queue

Looks like Lord of the Rings Online’s free to play experience is off to a rip roaring start.

And this on what was a low pop server.  Saturday night was certainly just like old times– lagalicious good times in old Bree.  I’m sure things will even out as the first wave of new/old noobs disperses throughout Middle Earth.

Store functionality seems to be decent in my limited experience.  Mrs. P and I took advantage of the bonus pricing for a modest amount of Turbine Points which was painless.  FAR more painless than in the few other F2P games in which I’ve attempted to buy “points”.  Just click confirm and purchase done.  Of course, that is also related to the fact that I already had a Turbine account and payment information for my previous LotRO sub was already in place.

The organization and some of the functionality of the store, however, certainly leaves something to be desired.  Here’s an easy one to bitch about– no “Dressing Room” preview of items.  Fortunately, many folks have compiled screen shots of some items from the F2P beta, so if you Google a bit, you can get a preview, but selling cosmetic items for cash is a hard sell if you can’t actually see it until you purchase….

Next, the store tries to be overly helpful by limiting what is displayed by what your current character/class/level can presently purchase/equip.  This is fail.  Maybe I’m missing something, but unlike every other trainer, vendor and auction house interface, in the store you can not see what is over your horizon.  Color me crazy, but I’m much more likely to throw down for some Turbine Points if I can see that at Level X I can purchase the Uber Donkey of Swiftness with 2000% travel speed and auto-bray AOE stun if I can actually see it in the damned store before I’m able to use it…  I like knowing what’s ahead so I can plan and play accordingly.

Hopefully, someone will realize that a “useable” checkbox filter and/or a confirmation dialog box when you purchase something you can’t use for your class/level would probably go a long way to encouraging sales…

Still, heartily encouraged by the influx of folks to ME at this point.

What I Did Last Summer

I can’t believe its been a full three months since posting.  Summer can be cruel.

Please Meet the New Eden, Same as the Old Eden

When last reported, I was hell bent on colonizing a wormhole in Eve which would be populated by my two accounts and a corp mate or two.  After an audacious start which involved lots of skill training and planning, I ended up with my entire POS staged and ready to deploy in that ideal wormhole system.

Despite my best efforts, that wormhole system just never showed up.  After weeks of searching nightly for an unpopulated Class 2 (even a Class 1, would have done) I was never able to find a suitable system at a time of day that would allow me to deploy the POS and get situated.  Nightly, I would surf about 10-20 systems in an ever increasing radius from my usual home system in Amarr only to find most were quite occupado.

Needless to say, it took some of the wind out of my sails, and being summer and all, I had a feeling that I started my assault on this personal Everest too late in the season for a bona fide summit attempt.  Eve it seems lends itself to the inclement and inhospitable weather of winter.  The long cold nights being a natural fit for the harsh realities in New Eden.

Somehow, fan on, windows open and the smell of barbeque wafting in is anathema to spending time in New Eden.  No doubt I’ll rekindle my interest AGAIN this winter.  I have a history of ramping up in winter/spring only to park Eve in the summer.

Azerothian Hiatus

As Wilhelm has been reporting, RL events disrupted our horde-side instance group work just as we were confronting the possibility of having to slog through Burning Crusade.  Divine Intervention it might have been, but I’m glad for the break which gave us a chance to return to…

Middle Earth, I Hardly Knew Ye

Yes, several of us returned to Lotro, partly in response to the announcement that it was going Free to Play in early September.  Wil has again been the scrivener and documented our exploits there.

Several things struck me about Lotro that I now realize that I had been missing badly in Azeroth.  Despite the convenience of the dungeon finder (particularly for old hacks like us who’ve been playing since release), Middle Earth is first and foremost a place.  It first struck me in beta that Turbine had indeed taken a vastly different approach to creating Middle Earth than most developers.

Middle Earth is very much a place and I find myself wandering quite a bit just to see what I can see and yes, there are things to see well off the beaten track.  With the expansiveness of Middle Earth, however, come some drawbacks.  ME, like much off our real worlds, is quite a bit filled up with bits that aren’t that interesting in a footstep by footstep way.

In previous lives, I recall several Vanishing Point quality road trips from California through the high desert of Nevada, over the Rockies and across the Great Plains.  And in a not entirely un-Kowalski like state, those journeys and the experiences of traveling those lands were best experienced “caffeinated” and through the windshield occasionally punctuated by bouts of extreme wierdness on a local level.

Middle Earth of course has yet to experience its Eisenhower and build its network of highspeed interstate highways.  Thus while I am continously enthralled by the feeling of place pervading Middle Earth, I find myself chafing a bit at having to travel quite so much.

I’ve long argued that sensible travel time is critical to creating both a sense of place and an opportunity for emergent gameplay.  However, what makes that travel interesting is the potential for interesting unpredictable outcomes.  Where that doesn’t exist yet the time factors does, you end up with something more akin to a time tax rather than the opportunity to reinforce the notion that you are resident in a vast untamed world.

Still, this time around I’m generally having a good time and even with our group of four, I’m looking forward to the advent of the F2P system with skirmishes available at level 20 to facilitate easy group play.

Return to Norrath

I might even be jumping the gun for Wilhelm’s annual Norrath Nostalgia fest that tends to arrive in the fall.  Exactly unlike Eve, the deepening golden twilight of shortening summer nights and the increasingly cooler winds which carry that slightly sweet sense of decay beckons to return to Norrath for perhaps, yes, one more turn on the nostalgia carousel.

Unlike many others, EQ2 has never been my “main” MMO.  Not that I don’t like it– au contraire.  In another universe, I could easily have spent the last 6 years in EQ2 rather than WoW.  Like Lotro, I’ve longed for the F2P option for EQ2.  This fall, they’ve decided to deliver.  Sort of.

This weekend (double xp weekend no less), I decided to drop into the EQ2 Extended “beta” (as Wil says, in a post-Google world, v 1.0 is “beta”– by that criteria, most of my life has been a beta– which is good because I can then think that I’ll correct all those mistakes on “release”….).

My overall assessment is positive.  If EQ2 has the potential to captivate you, EQ2 Extended could easily scratch that itch.  If you have deeper needs than that, you may run into what I call the EQ2/SOE dissonance, namely how can such a bunch of business asshats be responsible for the great game that is buried within EQ2?

I think Gordon from We Fly Spitfires has hit most of the issues and I can’t say I disagree with him.  Frankly, I woke up Sunday on a three day weekend and said, hrm… maybe I should check out the EQ2 Extended beta… I tend to try to pretend that I’m just a somebody seeing what its all about and what the “everyperson” experience would be like.

After reading WFS and Saylah’s posts over at Mystic Worlds, I decided to see whether Bronze (aka free cheap bastard) level would allow me to enjoy myself in game.  Races limited, classes limited, so I ended up with an Erudite Inquisitor to start.

Based on Saylah’s posts, I too decided to roll out in New Halas, mainly because I had never been there in any previous EQ2, but also because of the good things she said about the layout of the town and the housing.

With double XP weekend, I managed to rocket through to almost level 20 in a day, pick up the New Halas Courser noob mount and get to New Halas to start decorating my new apartment.

Man, housing in New Halas is WAY better than the ghettos of Qeynos.  Thats a big plus.  The basic noob apartment with the various bonus items from previous purchases and the many housing item quest rewards from the starting quests definitely had my new diggs looking fairly spiff.  And the EQ2 housing seems pretty much quite a step up from Runes of Magic.

Of course, with Bronze level, there are some glaring omissions which may or may not be a complete pain in the ass. First, I was jazzed to get a Legendary quality cloak item as a quest reward.  To bad that Bronze cheap bastards can’t equip anything north of mastercrafted.

Likewise, Bronze cheap bastards are limited to basically no storage.  This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it simply meant that I had to grind gold to buy bags/boxes/bankslots.  But that would be too simple.  Bronze, of course, can’t access the broker (aka auction house) without purchasing broker tokens in the cash shop.

Now that sucks.  The kind of F2P model I like is agnostic as between time and dollars.  In my world, everything in the cash shop should be available for some expenditure of gold.  Eve, in my view, has got this figured out.  Plex can be purchased for in game currency via the market or for cash.  Players who have more time than money can choose accordingly and vice versa.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anyway short of an upgrade to solve the access to the broker problem.  And the truly unfettered access to the broker appears to only come at Gold (aka subscription minus) level access.

I think this is a huge mistake.  Frankly, one of the thing that is a big draw to EQ2 is the depth of its crafting system.  And, more importantly, its balance with the rest of the economy, i.e., crafted gear is quite desirable throughout much of the game.

At a MINIMUM, everyone should be able to participate in the consumptive economy.  A game’s economy via the time shifted purchasing and selling of items is really the heart and soul of a virtual world.  In it are buried the sum total of the populations varied and sundry activities, across experience levels, across time zones, etc.

Maybe I’m a noob, but quite often I’ll see something on the broker or auction house and wonder “holy crap, where did they get that?” and the pursuit of such an item then fuels further adventures in the wide world.  By locking out Bronze and Silver, I think SOE is missing a huge hook to get players to commit.

On the plus side, I see that crafting raws are available via the cash shop.  Whether the price is right is a matter of debate, but the concept is simply time versus money and with gathering, I tend to agree to that.  I enjoy crafting as a progression game in itself and gathering time is often merely a tax in time or gold.  This solves both.  I was amazed briefly when as a wee member of Jaye’s Revelry and Honor they’re gathering bots in the vast guild hall was able to provide raws as needed (within reason) to allow people to play the game they wanted to play.  Having mats in the cash shop is a reasonable subsitute IMHO.  I can choose time or money as desired.

I’ve got to say, there is simply something about EQ2 that either grabs you or it doesn’t.  What grabs you (me at least) tends to be something that doesn’t lend itself to lists like the many things that bug me or downright piss me off.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty jazzed that there is a F2P way to play EQ2 now.

The Future

I’m sure we’ll reconvene as a group for Cataclysm whenever that arrives.  In the mean time, I suspect our of time in investment in Lotro will keep us headed toward Moria.  No promises whether we make it to Mordor.

A backup plan for the group might be to roll on F2P in EQ2 Extended.  I know at least 3 of our 5 group would dig it, and the last two might be convinced particularly if the cash shop could smooth out some of our disparities in play time budgets, etc.

What I’m really looking forward to is Guildwars 2 though… but that’s another post.

Potshot on Runes of Magic

This is a 30 second impression.  After the all the hullabaloo and kerfuffle about the $10 Runes of Magic Horse, I thought I’d better actually hoof it on over to actually try out RoM to see if somehow my opinion would change.

I downloaded RoM (about 4 gigs, relatively painless if a bit slow), installed and jumped in game.  Painless.  Unlike some AAA titles, it just worked.  Character selection– one race, familiar basic archetypes:  warrior, mage, scout, rogue, priest, knight.   Slightly more that a WoW level of character customization, but not too much.

The graphic style is somewhere between WoW and Guildwars.  If I had to put it in a nutshell, I’d say it looked like Guildwars, played like WoW but felt more like EQ2.  Everything is quite pretty, bright and glowy and with bloom, soft focused.  The animations are quite smooth and the spell effects are very EQ2 reminiscent.  In my book, all of these are good things.  I had fun.

The tutorial lasts all of about 5 minutes which is just fine.  If you’ve played any other MMO before, you wont need it, except it gives you some free stuff.  Once free of the tutorial you are transported to the noob zone with your Horse for a Day.  A nice addition.  Of course, the first thing that came to mind was “god damn the pusher man”.  Just a taste, and the first one is free.  I like having a horse early on.

The noob zone quests were all fairly typical basic orientation quests– learn gathering skills, learn basic combat, etc.  Still they were not so excessive as to be offputting nor so trivial as to be completely bypassed.

I spent only a couple hours max trying out most of the classes getting to the highest level of 6 and into the second town before I called it a night.  All in all a positive experience.  Stable, pretty, smooth, familiar yet different and enough of a positive experience that I will likely return to see what the future holds.  Very familiar experience, but when I think about it being a F2P game, I feel like they delivered a very high quality product.  What was conspicuously absent was outright suck.

For a F2P game, the level of polish is pretty high.  A few things that could be improved, but overall no deal killers.  Way too early to call this game a keeper, but if more F2P games assiduously stick to the developers Hippocratic Oath of “do no harm to your player base” in the initial experience like RoM has done, then they have a legitimate shot as success.  I have no idea what playing beyond the noob zone holds, but suffice it to say they didn’t eff it up for what I saw.  I had fun, I remain curious, I’d consider giving them money.

This is a 30 second impression, so who knows what my opinion may be down the road.  I could get bored to tears or find religion and hail RoM as the second coming.  So far it seems like a solid F2P option that doesn’t put the MICROTRANSACTION based model in your face.  Kudos to them.  Throughout the noob experience, never once was I beat over the head with solicitations like “If you purchased this you’d be uber”.  The Item Mall was just another menu screen to discover.

After a very brief evening exploring this game, I can say that regardless of whether I expected to play more than a casual month in this game, I’d be willing to throw down for the FREAKING $10 HORSE.  Hell, I feel like sending those guys $10 just because they made a game that didn’t piss me off and make me feel like they stole precious time from my life never to be recovered (let alone the box price…).  Seriously, horse = Alexander Hamilton = Truth.