The Game Doesn’t Always Begin At The End

February 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm (Navel-Gazing, Raiding, WoW General)

So, I’ve been fairly quiet.  Part of that is, of course, being gainfully employed once again, which is keeping me busy.  But also, I’ve found a somewhat unexpected experience when I came back to WoW this time around.  The game and I just haven’t clicked.

I’ve taken hiatuses (hiati?) before.  I figured I’d get ramped up for raiding and be good to go.  I ran a few heroics, got a few badges, and just Ran. Out. Of. Steam.  I found I lacked any enthusiasm for gearing up for raiding.  Now, I’ve always had a bit of that essential laziness (I don’t think I ever did get exalted with Sons of Hodir), but this time, the chore just seemed even more tedious than usual.

On some level, this bothers me.  I really want to see Icecrown Citadel.  My entire mental conception of my character and her history requires her to go into Icecrown Citadel.  I’m not going to see Icecrown Citadel if I go a month at a time between logons.  But I don’t, however, appear to want to see Icecrown Citadel badly enough to gear up from Naxx25-Ulduar10 level gear to where I’d be ready (assuming my guild even still exists such that it would be an option – it’s been a month since I logged on, so I have no idea).  But when my alternative is pugging Heroic Utgarde Pinnacle again, I feel a piece of my soul die.  And not in a good warlocky way, either.

Meanwhile, the siren song of Lord of the Rings Online has sucked me in entirely.  My hunter (think WoW hunter, but without a pet, so playstyle’s an almost more mage-style nuke-em-before-they-get-to-you) is level 44, and I have a small stable of alts I’m playing with as well.  Another few levels, and I can begin heading south towards a certain rather nasty dwarf ruin of considerable notoriety.

(And once again, Turbine, I’ll go into considerably more detail about the awesomeness of  your game if you send me a big fat check, so I can be one of those Kept Bloggers I keep hearing so much about!)

Why, I find myself wondering, am I spending time in a new MMO while precious raiding hours slip away?  After all, raiding has been what I’ve organized my endgame around since I first hit 70 on the lock.  And that, I think, is what it comes down to – it’s endgame.

Everybody has heard the claim that “WoW begins at level cap”, or that the endgame is the real game.  I’ve made the argument (I forget where) that that’s only true after you level your first character to level cap – the first time through, every new zone is exciting.  Leveling alts, that’s not as true – by a certain point, you’ve either leveled through a zone before, or you don’t actually have any interest in doing a particular zone (the latter is the case for me with most of the forested Kalimdor zones, for example – I’m just not interested.)

The raiding endgame is something I got into from the perspective of being an explorer.  I wanted to see what the inside of Medivh’s tower looked like.  I wanted to see this Kael’thas guy I kept reading about in the quest text (yes, I read quest text).  I wanted to see what was behind door number 1.  That said, raiding is also about the furthest thing from exploration there is.  The whole point of exploring is to boldly go where noone who is you, at least, has gone before.  If you show up to a raid, on the other hand, not having watched the videos that tell you precisely what to expect when you enter the boss’s room, you’re not doing your job.

It reminds me of how my dad and I used to play those old Sierra adventure games – King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, and so forth.  Those games, for any of my readers who are too young (/cry) to have played them, had a point system that was your score – up in the corner, you’d have a tag that said “Score: 135 of 280”, for example.  You could, if you went through the game without exploring around the edges of the game too much, complete the game with considerably less than a maximum score.  I usually did.  I wanted to see the next part more than I wanted to be absolutely positive I hadn’t missed a point somewhere in the room.  My dad, on the other hand, wanted the maximum score.  Different types on the Bartle Scale (though as I read it, despite my characterization of my motives and his, my type would actually be “Achiever”, and his would be “Explorer”).

And that’s where things stand right now – there isn’t really anything in WoW to explore.  LotRO is nothing but exploration for me right now.  And so, that’s where I am.

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Comparative MMOlogy – LotRO

December 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm (Exile in DDOville, Misty Mountain Hop, Navel-Gazing)

So, having abandoned the DDO experiment, I figured I was probably done with MMOs.  Well, as I mentioned before, WoW isn’t quite done with me (though I’m not yet raiding, so I have to admit, I’m not all that excited about being back yet), and now, having gotten to play with it a bit (after a brief flirtation with it two years ago), it turns out Lord of the Rings Online isn’t quite done with me either.

I’ll be writing in more detail, but the short version – LotRO is a great example of a game where small, subtle tweaks can radically improve a gaming experience.  Two years of those little tweaks (and they are little – there was no doubt that, as I played around with it during the Christmas break, I was playing the same game, but it was a game with far fewer elements that frustrated me than was the case two years ago) have made a big difference.

It’s also a game that, in its RP-friendliness, does much of what I wish WoW would do.  Things like armor dyes, a music system (for your characters to play music – I kid you not), pipe-weed, costumes/appearance tabs, player housing, etc. give the world life – even as LotRO is less tongue-in-cheek than WoW – appropriately so, given Turbine’s enthusiasm for remaining faithful to the spirit of the subject matter –  the world feels more playful.   Among other things, its why LotRO draws, on average, an older, and (dare I say it) more mature player base than WoW does.  My guess is a higher proportion (for obvious reasons) of the player base are regular readers (no set of four letters so sears my soul as “TLDR”)

So, I’ll probably be running a bit of an ongoing series here, like my DDO experiment.  Understanding that my rather small (especially after the constant to-quit-or-not-to-quit drama) reader base is made up of WoW players, I’ll definitely confine my LotRO blogging to stuff I think WoW players would be interested in.

No, this won’t be turning into a LotRO blog.  For starters, once I resume raiding with my new guild (of almost all the same people – meet the new guild, same as the old guild) I suspect I’ll be a bit more enthusiastic for WoW that I am right now (though for raid-life balance issues I previously alluded to, I think I’ll be approaching it more casually than has been the case previously).  LotRO still has that new-car smell.  That will, eventually, fade.  But, a glance at what others are doing can shed light on what Blizzard should consider implementing (and I’m sure Blizzard has – the achievement system has a few things in common with the deeds system in LotRO, which preceeded it by quite a bit, though they may both be based on some other game’s system for all I know).

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Okay, I lied

December 16, 2009 at 10:48 pm (Navel-Gazing)

Damn you, Blizzard.  Damn you.

I was fine until the free seven days were dangled in front of me as an incentive to give the game another try.  No, that’s not quite right.  I was fine until two events coincided:  the provision of seven free days, and finally finding a new job (after a hideously long period of time unemployed – thank you, economic downturn – you sucked and I hate you, along with the people and policies I deem responsible, but which I will refrain from naming as I don’t believe in mixing politics and gaming).  I start January 4.

I have, however, returned to WoW, at least for the time being.  I cannot say what sort of blogging schedule I will resume, except that when I have something to say, I will probably say it.  Or write it, in any event.

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Making it official

November 16, 2009 at 7:23 pm (Navel-Gazing)

Well, my disinclination to continue this blog has probably become quite apparent.  As I mentioned in the last post’s comments, it’s hard to remain motivated to post about WoW when you’re not playing WoW.   So, for the sake of anybody in the future who comes across this blog, I might as well make de jure what had only been the case de facto – I’m ending my stint as a WoW blogger.

What I didn’t mention previously, because I hadn’t yet reached any decision, is that even if things turn around for me personally in the near future (and they haven’t, as yet), I don’t think I will be returning to World of Warcraft, and while I “never say never”, I don’t expect that to change.

My relationship to WoW, and the degree to which I could be said to “enjoy” it, has always been a bit complicated, particularly once I began raiding.  It’s very easy for raiding to become a job instead of leisure.  More than that, though, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that my relationship to World of Warcraft has not always been particularly healthy.

I’ve always tended to become obsessively interested in things, and then crash.  WoW, by its nature, takes this tendency and amplifies it to what are, for me, destructive levels.  When it’s not merely my temporary fixation keeping me interested in something, but the fact that People Are Relying On Me ™, whatever small ability I have to maintain a balanced life collapses.

We’ve all heard the jokes about World of Warcrack.   And no, WoW is not (for me, at least) an addiction (I quit smoking cigarettes earlier this year, after a decade-plus pack-a-day habit – believe me, I know addiction).  But it has been a compulsion, at least at times.  And it’s been a distraction from focusing on aspects of my life that have really needed my attention.

I’ve met many wonderful people, people I’ll miss – to the folks from Legio Vici, my thanks for a great run.  To the folks from Milites Lucis, my apologies for too short a run.  To the WoW bloggers I’ve corresponded with, thanks for the laughs.  To my readers, thank you for reading.  I hope I entertained you.

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Missed Opportunity

October 6, 2009 at 6:16 pm (Exile in DDOville, Navel-Gazing)

So, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission, for those of my readers not from the US) has released rules for bloggers, in what I have to think is just about the stupidest thing imaginable.

Apparently I have to disclose if I’m being paid to blog about something.  As anybody who read my summary probably gathered, DDO in no way compensated me for trying out its product.  However, if Turbine wishes for me to revise my opinion, I am in fact for sale – please feel free to drop me a line at feldeeds at gmail dot com with your bid.  Yes I’m a whore warlock of questionable virtue.  Integrity doesn’t pay the bills.

“DDO:  Worth Every Penny You Didn’t Pay For It!”

“DDO:  I Had to Be Paid Very Little To Recommend It!”

“DDO:  The Best Half-a-Game I’ve Ever Tried!”

Blizzard could buy an absolutely stellar review of just about anything it wanted, if it reupped my membership without, y’know, charging me.  $15 a month, Blizz – think about what it would mean to have me singing your praises to my literally dozens of readers (or my three readers who refresh my blog dozens of times!)

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Ah well

October 5, 2009 at 7:11 pm (Navel-Gazing, Running Guilds Into the Ground)

It appears that, during my absence from the game, my guild has collapsed.

On some level, this is a relief.  The experience was worthwhile, but it convinced me I’m best not leading a raiding guild.  For starters, it turned out that I don’t have a fundamental trait of a good raiding guild leader – the willingness to possibly hurt somebody’s feelings to get them to improve.  Second, on more than one occasion, I deferred (on a point of strategy rather than tactics) to somebody who didn’t, ultimately, have the same investment in the guild that I did (i.e. not an officer, but someone with a level of experience that was, frankly, greater than mine).  In one case, this led to me allowing the guild to be used by somebody who was pretty clearly just in it to gear up a friend, so they could in turn jump to a faster guild.  Anyway, this sent our progression strategy back at a time when it needed to be, well, progressing.

Moral of this story – if you are conflict-averse, and not a suspicious sonofabitch, don’t try leading a guild.

Ironically, this happens just as some potential good news appears on the horizon re: the real life issues that have kept me away.  So I may be coming back to the game sometime this month.   Well, correction:  I may be able to come back sometime this month.  Whether I will come back is another question – I find myself trying to figure out whether it’s worth the bother.  Yet another imploding raiding guild, and a rapidly-passing expansion, is leaving me pretty sure I need to be doing something different.  Icecrown’s on the PTR, I’m halfway through Ulduar, and I’m beginning to think that it’s TBC all over again.  I didn’t get to see endgame then, either, as the guilds I was in  blew up, ran out of time, or I had real-life stuff compel my absence.  I don’t know whether hopping servers or factions would help (my inner RP nerd could rationalize a faction shift from human to undead pretty easily – thank you Plague of Undeath).  And it’s not like I’m returning to the game immediately, so I have some time to figure it out.

Still, feh.  I can’t pretend I didn’t have higher hopes than this.

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DDO: I’m just not that into you.

September 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm (Exile in DDOville, Navel-Gazing)

Okay, well, after last night, when I decided I preferred to clean my bedroom (well, some of it anyway) to logging onto DDO, I think it may be approaching the time to call the DDO experiment complete.  The portly soprano isn’t singing yet, but she’s definitely clearing her throat.  Since I don’t have to pay for it or anything, I’ll leave it installed and probably pop in every once in a great while.  But so far, it’s definitely not catching on.

For starters, the game has an incredibly weak story, and this is, for me, its fatal flaw.  It’s really a succession of dungeon crawls more than anything else.  Every quest you do is actually its own instance, which is kind of nifty, to be sure, but they start to seem very repetitive after a while.  And so far, at least, there’s very little feeling of an overall story beyond very broad strokes.  On the starter island, you have some sahuagin who are allied with some cultists, and there’s a dragon with them or something.  That’s about as deep as the story gets.  I don’t feel that I want to see what happens next, I just want to get to the treasure chest at the end.  In a sense, this is true to the source material (there’s a reason the company that created D&D was called Tactical Studies Rules).  But RPGs are not just tactical simulations any more.  Well, good ones aren’t, at any rate.

One thing I thought DDO actually does better than WoW (I referenced it previously) is in the area of puzzles and traps.  WoW simply doesn’t have them, and it’s poorer for it.  The problem is, the puzzles in DDO are largely repetitive – flipping around the squares to connect certain nodes to a power source was interesting the first time.  The third time, the novelty’s worn off.  And if you’re not a rogue, traps are just an environmental hazard, not an opportunity to actually do something interesting.

The controls are incredibly clumsy, and even less responsive than LotRO.  Targeting is incredibly irritating (particularly given the tendency to detarget when you’re using the mouse to steer the camera or your character).   You click for each individual attack (there is an autoattack option, but it doesn’t work very well, having a tendency to just shut off, even if the button is still lit up, and frankly, given the lack of special attacks, if you turn on autoattack, it would be completely insufferably boring).    Think “Diablo”, but awkward.

Now, I’m not prepared to call it a day entirely.  The primary thing I haven’t done yet is explore group play, using hirelings, or anything else – I’ve soloed all the dungeons so far.  This is, obviously, a rather gaping hole in my experience.  The source material, after all, is not designed for solo play.  Frankly, I’ve wanted to get better at the game before doing much grouping – nothing worse than being the noob who’s being carried through a dungeon.  But I’m rapidly approaching the point where the options are do some group play to give the game one last shot, or quit entirely.

Also, apparently, grinding instances is how you’re supposed to get the points that allow you to buy new content, or something.  Which would address another issue I have – accrual of whatever those points are that allow you to buy different features is l u d i c   r    o     u       s         l         y                     s           l             o              w.  Pretty sure I’m going to be old and gray before I’m able to buy anything.   Clever from the point of view of luring your players to subscribe.  But that’s not an option for me, so instead, it’s just annoying.

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DDO: On being a newbie

September 21, 2009 at 5:40 pm (Exile in DDOville, Navel-Gazing)

So, my little error in my first couple of posts (re: the character limit) made me think about how, no matter what new classes/races WoW releases, no matter what buffs and nerfs each class gets, what new content is released, or for that matter, no matter how long my little hiatus lasts, when it comes to World of Warcraft, I will never again be a newbie (I will leave aside the question of whether I can be, or am, a noob, as that’s a very different taxonomy, as all will agree).

In some ways, this is a plus.  There are some questions to which I would just as soon not have to spend long stretches of time trying to find an answer – basic questions like character limits, or how to turn off my helmet so I can’t see it (yes, some problems are universal, including ugly-ass helms that don’t mesh with the rest of your outfit).  These are not questions which preserve a sense of mystery, they are questions which interfere with one’s immersion in the game.

On the other hand, even in new content in WoW, I have a pretty good idea how my warlock, for example, will fare against most enemies.  I’m unlikely to be surprised, except in very high end raid content.  In DDO, on the other hand, I find myself approaching adventure instances (I’ll cover that later – if you’re familiar with Guild Wars, then questing seems to largely work that way) with real trepidation.  Not only not knowing what’s around the corner, but seeing that group of three or four enemies and realizing I’m genuinely not sure I can handle them.  My grasp of my class’s mechanics are shaky enough that I’m not entirely sure what my best strategy against a particular mob or party of mobs is.  I find myself asking myself “what if I try this?”

And it’s fun.  When my efforts to solve an underwater puzzle of sorts were running up against an absurdly short breath-timer, I decided on an experiment, and took off my armor.  Surprise surprise – when you’re not wearing heavy armor made of metal, you swim better, and can hold your breath longer.  I felt a sense of accomplishment and discovery.  This is a sort of thing that is hard for a game you’ve been playing for ages to accomplish.

Now, to be sure, WoW is a far better game.  That is already pretty clear ot me – in terms of game stability, graphic/sound quality, certain choices the programmers made (for example, any happiness I may have had about Star Wars: The Old Republic being fully-voiced have gone away, as DDO has made clear exactly how annoying excessive voice acting in a video game can be – bad voice acting, anyway, and the line between good and bad voice acting can be awfully slim).  Nevertheless, even though DDO is, by any reasonable measure (except one, which I’ll discuss in another post), an inferior game, I find myself intrigued by it in a way WoW hasn’t intrigued me since at least WotLK’s launch, or perhaps my first time setting foot in a raid.  And certain things, like my first boat trip to the city of Stormreach (which I just took) are exciting in a way I don’t remember seeing since the gates of Stormwind first came into view on my first character.  That first glimpse of something that is, in scope, vaster than anything I’ve yet seen in-game.

Some, of course, are not fond of the mystery.  I’m clearly not the only person giving DDO a shot right now, and I admit that every time I see somebody named Pwnsnubs asking “Where’s the skeletal mage?” (don’t ask) in General chat, a bit of me dies inside.  You’re only going to be able to discover the skeletal mage once.  Enjoy it, forcryingoutloud.

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I’m fine. Really. *twitch*

September 20, 2009 at 9:12 am (Navel-Gazing)

Well, I am officially no longer a WoW player.  Well, I’m officially no-longer-a-WoW-player-until-economic-matters-improve.

However, there’s still downtime when I can’t actually be tending to job-related-stuff, and what am I going to do, watch TV?  So, I decided to give a shot to a free MMO, and see what it’s like.  As it happens, Dungeons & Dragons Online just launched their free-to-play service.  I definitely could see the pricing model catching on, at least for a niche within the larger market, so it’s worth seeing how it works.  Plus, the company behind it is Turbine, and while there were aspects of Lord of the Rings Online I didn’t care for, it was certainly a quality game.  I did, back in my days DMing a group some years ago, know the D&D 3d edition rules pretty well, and I remember enough of them to hold my own, so I don’t have to deal with too steep a learning curve.

So, time to explore the world outside Azeroth.  No, not the real world.  That has bugs.  Of the bitey-stingey kind, not the crashy-laggy kind.  No it’s on to Eberron…and I’m passing the sardonic observations on to you, gentle readers.

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Anticlimax

September 16, 2009 at 5:46 pm (Navel-Gazing)

Well, having just returned to the blog, due to circumstances beyond my control, I’ll be letting my subscription to WoW lapse in three days.  While not necessarily inconsistent with blogging, I certainly expect it to dampen my ardor more than a little.  I can see the entry now:  “Patch Day today, patch looks great, pity I can’t play it.  Dungeons & Dragons Online anyone?”  Ah well.

Hopefully I’ll be back soon, economic recovery willing.  Guildies, keep kicking ass in Ulduar.  Non-guildies, thanks for reading, hope to see you again soon.

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