What a difference a day makes

Reaper? BDR? Shocked! Shocked I say...
Reaper? BDR? Shocked! Shocked I say…

Suffering from the same fate as Wilhelm, slogging through the French heavy line, I did manage to finally get to the mountain top of the 90mm gun.  Coupled with the increased view range that binoculars can provide and suddenly “L’Oeuf Domage” has become L’Oeuf Dommage” at last (apologies to Mme. Bosque, my long suffering high school French teacher).

Seems that if one takes the time to be thoughtful, patient and a bit careful, one can teach people to fear the egg.  Looking forward to finding some time to platoon up with Wilhelm and Earlthecat and scramble a few unsuspecting chaps.

Fear the Chicken

After about a month of various interruptions to our Azerothian adventures (travels, weather-related power problems, etc.), our instance group was able to reconvene Saturday.  No doubt Wilhelm will chronicle our adventures in detail later, but dinging a level on my Worgen Druid got me the talent point I needed for Moonkin form.

Who's the Chicken Now?

In all my years in WoW, I’ve not actually played a dps character, and a druid caster was one of the few paths I had not explored.  I’ve been playing him straight as a caster and frankly a bit underwhelmed since the lower levels seem very heavy on feral skills and there seems to be relatively little leather caster gear.

With Moonkin, aside from looking like a chick-a-lope, comes a spellpower buff and a group haste buff as well which is a nice addition.  Its also getting easier to tell us apart given we are a group of four male worgen and a female gnome.  I’m the one with the horns now.  As the character is verging on level 30, gear choices, spells and talents are starting to make me feel like I’m playing a more unique class.

Before the short hiatus, I had been working my way through Cataclysm with my hunter and managed to cap out about 1/2 way through the Twilight Highlands.  The new excessively linear quest model was really starting to wear on me a bit, so it was time for a break.

Along with World of Tanks, Everquest launched the new progression server Fippy Darkpaw which Wilhelm and I got sucked into, so much so that we both resubbed for at least the next month.

The return to Norrath has been quite a contrast from Azeroth and definitely not an unpleasant time.  As many have said, its not the graphics, its the game, and indeed after a short period of visual readjustment, Norrath seems a place again in my mind rather than a series of low fi 2d screen shots.  I’ve been having a very good time there.

During the brief hiatus from WoW, I had not even logged in, so I was expecting the contrast in returning to Azeroth after spending quite a bit of time in Norrath to be a bit more jarring.  I was afraid I’d either be really disappointed in WoW or the return to playing with the group in Azeroth would be so much fun that it would smash the idea of the fun I’ve been having in Norrath.

Fortunately, neither was the case, but for me, its an interesting exercise in my own tastes and what I enjoy in an MMO.

Norrath, with its vast open spaces and limited means of travel (not even mounts on Fippy Darkpaw) speaks to my longing for a worldly world.  Places that are far away are indeed far away, exotic and dangerous.
Part of what underscores that feeling is the death mechanic.  While not quite 1999 with its naked corpse runs, the current death mechanic in EQ reinforces the world feel.  When you die, you return to your bind point.  That could be a loooong way from where you were playing which certainly makes you think more carefully about how you play.

Couple that with the fact that mobs will follow you to the zone line means you better not overcommit or wait too long to stage a tactical retreat or you might be looking at a long hike back.

Azeroth on the other hand, has progressively shrunk over the years.  Mounts, more and more flight points, and now the dungeon finder leave the world feeling more like a world of boxes.  The new phasing mechanics introduced in Wrath and used heavily in Cataclysm only make the situation worse.  If I were to explore the “world” of Cataclysm, which world would I be seeing?  If I haven’t done a specific series of quests, I will see a different world and if my friends or group mates are on a different phase than I am are literally in a different world.

The tension of course is that being able to gather the group quickly and to be placed into reasonably challenging content (as long as we’re fighting red mobs) is a huge boon to those of us with limited play time.  To most of us who have tramped the old world of Azeroth, up hill in the snow both ways, the DF feels a bit like a convenience overlayed on top of a world we knew.  For newcomers that never had to explore the world, I wonder what the place feels like.

Progression is another start contrast.  Leveling in EQ is by any measure slow.  Some would say VERY slow.  After rerolling characters for a dual box set up, I’ve only just reached level 5 after maybe 8-10 hours of play (play sessions all in, not just grind time).  That actually doesn’t feel too slow to me.  The slow rate means I have an opportunity to make money, learn to actually play my character(s) and become intimately familiar with the zones I’m working in.

WoW progression has gotten faster and faster.  Saturday’s session saw me grab almost two levels (28-30) and completely run out of rested XP bonus in about a two hour session.  Even when we first convened the instance group pre-TBC, we hit 60 well before we had exhausted the old world instances, let alone the old world quest content.  Frankly, now its hard to do anything in Azeroth that doesn’t give you XP!  Exploration xp, resource gathering xp, battleground xp, archaeology xp, etc. etc.

Progression is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m increasingly of the mind that its a bit of a binary proposition– it either needs to be slow and shallow or almost non-existent.  Anything in the middle seems to just get in the way of people being able to group and play with each other.

I’m interested to see whether my impressions change as we continue progressing through Norrath.  At some point in all games, the grind just feels like the grind, but for now I’m enjoying the more leisurely approach tramping the plains of West Karana again.

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.