Assault on the In Box, Friday edition

Lots of people really do ask me what I DO in EverQuest? Truth be told, most of the time I am either working on my Epic 1.5 (the rogue epic quest is THE WORST of them all), do monster missions for gear and experience, or do the Boomerang! event in Brell’s Rest. It’s a simple arena game; everyone in the party chooses a team — red, blue or gold, like in Star Trek — and each is given boomerangs in their opponent’s two colors. You enter, are transformed into a gnoll of your color, and you run around and fling boomerangs at enemies while dodging boomerangs thrown at you, as well as explosive barrels that drop randomly from the ceiling. You get one point for hitting an enemy; lose one point for being hit twice and lose five points for being blown up by an explosive barrel. After five minutes, the top three get gold tokens (used to buy high level uber weapons), and everyone gets silver tokens appropriate to their point total, used to buy a wide variety of gear and augments.

Anyway. I get e-mails about games, and like a good little consumer, I want to share them with people who manage to get on fewer mailing lists than I do. You can’t stop the signal!

EverQuest 2: From 3PM PDT today to midnight PDT Sunday, you’ll get increased xp in EverQuest 2. That’s nice of them. What really gets me is their little extra note — “Purchase Adventure and AA Experience potions in the Marketplace with Station Cash for even more of a boost. Grind no more, level up quicker!” (Emphasis mine)

First of all, their marketing people don’t know the difference between adjectives and adverbs? I know, I know…. I’ll be damned, though, if this little blurb really makes me wonder. “Grind no more, level up quickly!” I think I have seen that on a hundred F2P games which INTENTIONALLY put in punishing grinds so that players will be driven to their cash shops. What EQ2 is essentially saying is that the stretch from level 80 to level 90 is put there purely to slow you down from getting to the ‘good stuff’ at 90, that there is no reason to take your time leveling. “Spend money and avoid this pointless grind we have put here for no other reason than to annoy you!”

They then go on to ask you to “explore ten more adventure levels with Sentinel’s Fate!” The very same levels they advertised in the previous paragraph as a pointless grind you could spend money to skip.

Granted, players could be leveling through the lower content and not just the final ten levels, but isn’t the POINT of an MMO — a subscription one, anyway — that the journey should be just as fun and rewarding as the end?

Aion: All these extra experience weekends are making me think that something special must be happening. Well, I guess it IS “spring break” in the US, and most of the schools and colleges are giving students the week off. So you can get drunk and party with your closest friends in Florida, or get drunk and party with random abusive strangers in an MMO. Your choice!

Today through Sunday, Aion is having a XXP weekend. “Extra Experience Points”, I guess is what that stands for, but “EEP” doesn’t sound as cool. Maybe it’s “EXTREME EXPERIENCE POINTS!!!!1!!!”, but that’s so 90s. And when did the 90s get so far away? ANYWAY. At least they didn’t say in their e-mail that players could take this opportunity to escape the punishing grind to the good levels.

This is all leads up to their v1.9 patch, which “… adds solo and daily quest content, fine-tunes the leveling experience, and balances class abilities while integrating interface and ease-of-play improvements-and its release is just around the corner!”

Aion is also adding $25 $24.99 character transfers between servers. They fired their old character moving intern and hired a new one at a lower rate, so they were able to knock off that extra cent for you. Free from the tyranny of $25 character transfers, players can now save that extra cent, perhaps buy something nice for the missus! Mother’s Day is coming, you know!

Lord of the Rings Online: Bucking the trend, LotRO doesn’t start their birthday celebrations until Monday. They’re bringing the Spring Festival back for a week. It’s like second breakfast, except this is Second Spring. All the old festival games will be back, the new festival horses which might actually be working this time, etc. Through the month of June, you can also earn tokens for defeating monsters that can be redeemed for extra stuff, and subscribe at the “founders rate” of $9.99/month. It was going to be $10/month, but they dramatically lowered their cost and are passing the savings on to you. Take that extra cent and buy something nice for the kids, they’ll love you for it.

Earth Eternal: The furry anthropomorphic MMO celebrates Earth Day yesterday (sorry) and today with special events. The trees are running wild, and adventurers of every size and shape need to run, slither, fly or teleport to battle to defeat the Rotted Treekin before they turn the future Earth into an arboreal paradise free of intelligent life with axes. It’s a huge GM event! I remember when EQ used to run those….

EE is also adding a new zone, and an option to download the game client so that you won’t need to run it from a browser any more. Are you listening, Free Realms?

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine: The demon hunter/trainer MMO adds a new cinematic plot to their already heavily story-based game. I’m just gonna paste the blurb here, because really, there’s nothing I can say:

Saburo, a would-be famous treasure hunter, is attempting to break free from Snakeman. For some time, Snakeman has been attempting to persuade Saburo into using his finely honed skills in service to Tokyo as a Demon Buster. All of Snakeman’s attempts have been in vain, however; Saburo has been earnestly plotting his escape. In order for Saburo to escape Snakeman’s clutches, he will be asking for your assistance while he tries to escape through the hidden routes under Home III.

Confused? You’ll just have to play to figure out what it all means.

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Tired of calling up your family and writing your friends whenever you level in D&D Online? Well, save the stamps and put your cell away, because DDO is offering a new Facebook app that can automatically spread word of your amazing in-game accomplishments to everyone you know. Don’t be surprised if your mom has a cake waiting for you when your epic 32-point drow monk dings 6! It’s important to get the word out!

You can also go skating for fun and profit (theirs) with the return of the Risa Ice Games. You can find the Risa Ice rising (like sunken Ry’leh) from Stormreach Harbor. Compete in games of skill and feats of strength, and don’t forget to let your Facebook friends in on the fun!

Daily Blogroll 10/10: Short Week edition

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I’ve been playing a bit of Earth Eternal since it went into open-closed beta yesterday. Since I think we’re still unable to actually show the game, here’s a picture of the upcoming stop motion/cgi film, Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Now, I don’t KNOW that Sparkplay’s gonna close down to go to the premiere, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Should kids gamble on the Internet? Evil Theurgists wonders why KingsIsle is encouraging kids to blow their parent’s moolah spinning the virtual wheels of Wizard101’s new slot machine — where you spend 15 (and up) Crowns to win the usual prize of 20 gold. You get 15 twirls a day and the rewards are minuscule so… let’s hope this is one feature that doesn’t make it out of testing.

How long must you play an MMO before you can honestly review it? Tobold thinks 5000 hours should be just about enough to give World of Warcraft a good looking-at. His conclusion? It just might stick around awhile.

Come back in 2014 for Tobold’s take on Champions Online and Fallen Earth :)

And in a similar vein, Anton is wondering if anyone has heard about this new game, “Aion”. Any good?

Dear Anton: Flavor of the month. In a year, they’ll all be playing WoW: Cataclysm and Aion will just be a footnote. Bank on it. Nobody leaves WoW alive.

Think higher level players should (at the very least) be able to speak English well (if on an English server)? Spinks thinks players should have to apply for more powerful characters as they level. And why not? MMOs these days are MUCH more like jobs than games, right?

Now that Cryptic has launched Champions Online to great acclaim, Syp hopes the lessons learned from the Champions launch can ease the way for their next MMO, Star Trek Online. Most importantly, when players complain of the smoke, their might possibly be a fire.

I have to confess to being a total STO newb. Assuming Star Trek Online doesn’t limit ship names to sailing ships of the 17th and 18th centuries, I’ll be captaining the science vessel “Newton” on an archaeological mission to learn more of the Progenitors, the ancient forebears of most humanoid races in the galaxy. Oh, not named after the famed scientist, ISAAC Newton. No, named after the suburb of Boston. Always loved that place.

MMO commentator Petter has a single word for those who buy gold: asshat. It’s going on your permanent record.

Well, I guess that’s enough for this morning. Too much Earth Eternal, not enough writing! I leave you with Dr. Horrible’s Neil Patrick Harris as he sings Batman to death

Daily Blogroll 10/8: Inappropriate Birth Metaphor edition

Baby spaceship takes its first flight!

Awwww, over-protective mommy ship takes cute baby alt-ship out for the first time! Yes, I’ve joined the ranks of EVE pilots with two accounts; the lure of EVE’s Power of 2 promotion and the savings in time by having a second account for salvaging, hauling, and extra drones was just too much to ignore.

If you think THAT picture is just too twee, check THIS one out.

What your doctor saw the day you were born. If you were a spaceship.

So there you have it. Another alt is born.

Hey, Aion’s out? Already? Wow, how’s it doing? Gold sellers everywhere? Let’s get some economics going. You are spending real money, that you earned, that could go for food or rent or gas on … nothing. NCsoft can always make more gold. They make it by the infinities every day. A resource that has an infinite supply that costs the producer absolutely nothing to produce has NO WORTH. So when you buy gold, you might as well be handing out dollar bills on the street. Anyway, Rer of (Insert Awesome Aion Name) says it a little better. Not only are you pissing away wealth on nothing, you’re ruining the game for everyone else.

Way to go, uber dude.

Stropp has some good ideas to combat gold spam. Simple economics, though, suggest the only real way to combat gold spam is to make NCsoft’s cost to produce more gold non-zero. To, like, make them adhere to the gold standard… So to speak. What if NCsoft had to give a dollar to charity for every thousand gold kinah they added to Aion?

Are you a MMO connoisseur who only plays the BEST, TRIPLE-A titles, like WoW and, um, WoW? Because the other SUB-AAA titles aren’t as good, so you’d be wasting your time on games like Maple Story, Wizard101, Chronicles of Spellborn, et al? Beau Turkey politely asks that you re-think what AAA means with regard to MMOs. Just because it’s a major studio sitting around in executive money chairs doesn’t mean they are the only ones who can make a fun, quality, game.

Gordon of We Fly Spitfires asks how it came to be that raiding is the end-game for MMOs? Why not something else — ANYTHING else? Well, Gordon, it all began with a little game called EverQuest. The EQ devs set their level cap so impossibly high that they never expected many people to ever reach it in the year and a half that they expected the game to run. They had a couple of dragons in the game as impossible challenges. But lots of people DID hit 50, and they found that if they got a hundred of their closest friends together and keep rushing at the dragons that they could eventually kill these beasts. So why is there raiding? Because MMO players INVENTED it. Since then, MMO devs have just been giving players what they ASKED for.

Maybe we should all get together and ask for something else?

If you’ve been stuck on Chaos MUD’s Wolfe Island for the last decade, the zone’s creator has come forth with a walkthrough, so you can finally move on with your life, maybe take a crack at the Telescope Room in Myst :) Seriously, I love reading the stories from the old MUD communities that more than anything else, set the stage for our MMO hobby.

Krystalle at Massively has been playing around in the Eskil Steenberg’s Love MMO’s paid alpha. You’ll remember Love as the game based on procedurally generated content — a world generated by algorithms as opposed to the more usual method of having artists and level developers plan them out. This makes it possible for a single developer to to make an entire world (and is how big-world MMOs like Dawn and Dark&Light intended to make worlds too large to ever be explored). Full featured MMO or glorified tech demo? Check out the videos, or play the game and decide for yourself.

Pete of Dragonchasers has been waxing rhapsodic about Bioware’s forthcoming Dragon Age for awhile, and why not? Looks like a great game, but I personally find it boring to play video games by myself these days. Just having people around makes it more special. Doesn’t mean I won’t play it, though.

Pro tip: Use phrases like “waxing rhapsodic” to confuse your non-English-as-a-first-language friends. It’s fun!

Syp never understood the appeal of sandbox MMOs like EVE Online and Star Wars: Galaxies before, but since he’s been playing Fallen Earth, he’s become a convert. So, I assume we’ll be seeing you in highsec pretty soon? :)

Ramon of Dalayan Diary LIKES grouping in Shards of Dalaya, but dislikes HAVING to group in order to see all the best stuff. Yup. It’s nice to have the choice — but given a choice, people always choose the easiest path. The only way to have a game with a really quality group experience is to make that the best and most obvious choice, alas.

And lastly, the Ultimate Beer Run:

A Weekend in Aion

A Weekend in Aion

Aion was my entertainment of choice this weekend. I spent the better part of Friday evening and Saturday playing it. I’ve rejoined MMO comrades from the Casualties of War (COW) guild, first formed as a group of bloggers going into Warhammer Online. The guild has since branched out into a number of other MMOs, including Aion.

Community

Even if you prefer to solo, having a good in-game community is important. This is especially true in PVP oriented games. Being back among the members of COW is fun as always. They’re chatty, extremely helpful and generous. A good guild helps to offset the sometimes “Barren’s chat” atmosphere of newly released or heavily populated games. Your guild is your sanity buffer.

Exploration

I play MMOs largely to exist in fantastical settings ripe with natural phenomenon, myth and magic. Aion is nothing if not beautiful! On land, air and sea, every corner of the world has been detailed with care. Original World of Warcraft was pretty to me. I especially loved the quaint zones like Goldshire, impressive cities like Stormwind and themed zones such as, Booty Bay and Darkshire. It wasn’t until Burning Crusade (BC) that Blizzard added vivid exotic zones like Zangarmarsh, Netherstorm and Terokkar Forest. And while I loved those zones, the abrupt transitions of the BC landscapes seemed awkward. Aion manages to deliver the same variety in zone design but with more fluid and natural transitions. I find myself roaming around new zones to take in the scenery before I begin questing.

Progression

Moneter-in-a-Box

Leveling

I did quite a bit of leveling over the weekend. The “dings” come slower than in a game like WOW. The XP doesn’t flow as quickly and combat takes longer. I haven’t minded the difference so far. If this is the “Asian grind” then it’s fine by me. You don’t get new skills like candy in Aion. The drawn out combat allows you to use your brain – strategy and tactics, to win a fight. You can’t win simply because you got in the first hit. In fact, you can kick a pending-defeat in the teeth by staying composed, thinking ahead and using everything that’s at your disposal, including the terrain. This game is the least rock-paper-scissors I’ve played to date and feels very balanced. You’re not meant to stand toe-to-toe slugging it out until one of you drops. Somewhat similar to Age of Conan, directional movement during combat will increase blocking or damage output. Those directional arrows at your feet have a purpose. *Smile*

I’m doing more quests than grinding which is a compliment to Aion’s PVE content. I must now concede that perhaps, I don’t actually hate quests. Everquest 2 and Asheron’s Call 2 being the exceptions, where I started questing, and how I came to believe that I hate quests. WOW’s quests past level 30 didn’t do much to improve my opinion of quests, which is where I really reverted to grinding and instances to level. In Aion, I’m mostly doing quests, as was the case with Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and Runes of Magic. Aion PVE isn’t perfect but it’s definitely good. If I encounter a quest series that has me running back and forth, I bail once I’ve had enough and move on to something else. At this point there’s been more content in a zone than I need.

Group Content

I did my first group quests with COW this weekend. It was an experience not to be missed. Dealing with the Black Claw Tribe is the first content that really requires a group. It’s an outdoor zone with elites, patrols and treacherous named-bosses roaming the area. Just getting to the NPC Quest Hub can be a death march the first couple of times. The previous content doesn’t prepare you for a zone of tightly packed mobs, with strong social aggro and a long chase leash.

The first time I tried to reach the area I almost died. I was totally unprepared for how densely packed the mobs were and came running in with a train on my butt. It’s amazing how many mobs you can aggro trying to run just a few yards from the safety of the Altgard Fortress. It’s not a zone you can do at the appropriate level and solo.

Stick 'em up, Fat Boy!

I have to admit that I liked the heightened sense of danger you don’t typically experience outside of a PVP setting. Black Claw has named mobs roaming around that can and WILL wipe a whole group if you don’t burn them down before a patrol comes along, mobs re-spawn nearby or someone moves around too much and pulls another pack. People don’t like dying in Aion. I certainly don’t like dying. I was proud of my 14 levels with no deaths status. I didn’t want the XP debt. I didn’t want to pay to have the death de-buff removed which get more expensive as you level. Besides, I usually have a nice stash of DP points accumulated for my special skills which you lose when you die. Doing the quests with the COW group was a piece of cake. There was only once occasion when things got out of hand and a few of us died – oh wait, we wiped. *Smile*

Drama and Mayhem

Late Saturday evening, I was sneaking around Black Claw, trying to turn in a couple of quests. I noticed someone in trouble and healed them. He invited me to group, asking if I could just escort him up the road a bit. Sure, no problem. On the way he started attacking random lone mobs and was shocked at how hard they hit. I told him that most of the mobs in the area were elite and to stay as close to the path as possible. Even that doesn’t give you a free run through the zone but at least the mobs near the path aren’t elites. On our way, we ran into a patrol whose route intersects the path. It wasn’t a piece of cake but we successfully dispatched them. I guess he got over confident. He started zigzagging the area killing mobs for a different quest. We were doing okay so I didn’t complain. The coin and loot was dropping at a nice pace so what’s to complain to about? Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, we had our Leroy Jenkins moment…

It happened so quickly but felt like slow motion. I saw the Spellcaster biotch and her pet approaching (Elite mob pair). I started backing up while trying to type, “DO NOT attack her. Run!” But it was too late. Johnny Come Lately Gladiator ran in for the kill. Nooooooooooooo! I knew this was going to hurt. He was taking damage like stomped tomato. I de-buffed the Spellcaster with a couple of hits then start healing Johnny, which caused the pet to attack me. All I could spare for myself was a heal-over-time. Johnny was going down fast. I knew that if he went down, there was nothing between me and face full of dirt, so I kept healing. I drank a health potion and popped my BP shield (last-ditch-hail-Mary, on a loss ass regeneration that is based on building DP points that clear if you die or log out) skill, to soak up some damage while hoping to survive. “Stay alive! No matter what occurs, I will heal you!” *Snicker*

Other Players are Helpful

Another player noticed we were in trouble and joined the fray. I buffed the newcomer, applied more de-buffs the hell-raising Spellcaster and kept healing. A patrol arrived. Oh lord, we’re gonna die. Two more players rushed in to help. By this time my fairy sized character couldn’t see shit. Body blows and magic – BAM, kick, thrust, fire, smoke and block animations were flying every which way. They kept fighting. I kept healing. And we managed to survive. When the last mob feel we looted them quickly and scattered like rats. I jumped off a nearby hill and glided to safety. Immediately after my Gladiator friend whispered, “Damn, I guess BC is serious business!” I fervently agreed and got the hell out of the zone.

Our little escapade capped my Saturday evening in the game. I’d had all the excitement I could take for one session. I flew back to the capital city and began crafting myself into poverty, but that’s a tale for another day.

Fly away home