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Archive for the ‘Vanguard: Saga of Heroes’ Category

I have tried out a number of MMOs, both paid and free to play, and I can’t say I’ve noticed any stark differences between the two styles as far as the fun factor is concerned. I’ve even subscribed to a few games, and/or bought longterm or lifetime subscriptions to others. But I am beginning to feel more strongly as time goes on that no one game can appeal to all of my gaming desires, so it is not reasonable for me to buy into one game and play it to the exclusion of all others. I just don’t want to have to pay subscriptions for all of them, when I play them so sporadically!

Currently I am playing Star Trek Online (year-long sub), Wizard 101 (free until I purchase more content), Aika (as further betas allow), and am trying to get back into Lord of the Rings Online (lifetime sub). Now, if I could continue to play any of the following without paying additional subscription fees, I would gladly pop back into:

  • Warhammer Online: the thought of a free T1 experience was appealing to me until I discovered that only Empire vs. Chaos lands could be accessed. I would be back in a heartbeat if Mythic enabled me to, say, pay by the tier – if I could purchase T1 access and have access to all three lands forever (or even one fee per pairing; I would pay that, too!), with all of my characters. If they would add fees for access to T2 through 4 in the same way, I’d be all over that. They could take from DDO’s model in this way, such that anyone could obviously bypass the Tier For Fee option and just pay a full subscription for access to the whole game.
  • Age of Conan: I loved the Tortage experience, but even so, I’m not that big a fan of repetition and after playing through the 1-20 game with all four archetypes, I feel I’ve exhausted that content. The addition of new content through the Rise of the Godslayer expansion has me really tempted to return and try running through with a member of the Khitai race, and really itching to try out the lands of Khitai for their contrast to the existing continents. But again, it would be really nice if I could buy this content. I would even be willing to pay extra on the price of the expansion if I could “own” access to the lands of Khitai. Heck, charge me $25 over the expansion box price and let me progress only through the lands of Khitai, stopping at level 40, but have access to that area forever.
  • City of Heroes/Villains and Champions Online: My partner and I had a lot of fun with CoX, though, as many others have said, most of our time was spent in character creation and we never really made it past level 12 or so (though I have a level 21 character that I soloed with). Again, it seemed just a bit too much to maintain a subscription for the amount of time we were spending with the game, and feeling compelled to “get our money’s worth” on the subscription tended to make us feel a bit sick of the content early on (I doubt I would have felt the mission structure was as repetitive as I did if I only attempted one mission in a week, instead of trying to get in 4-5 per night). Champions Online was my solo game, and I had enough fun with it that I felt sad when I canceled my subscription after one month, for the aforementioned reason.
  • Vanguard, Saga of Heroes: Now, here is a game that I feel would benefit from enabling permanent free access to the trial island. Between my better half and I, we couldn’t even make it to Adventuring level 10 in the two-week trial period, let alone in the other two spheres. I do have a concern that we game in too short of spurts to really make it far in a game of such sprawling landscapes and dungeons as Vanguard, but I would like to try, and would happily pay a one-time per-area fee for that opportunity.

Someone on the Massively forums said, in response to a player bemoaning the lack of American players’ ability to pay by the hour when playing games the way they do in Asia, that “if you play enough” the subscription fee is a bargain. Yes, it certainly is – if you play enough. Right now the only option with subscription games is to either play “enough,” overpay for sporadic gaming schedules, or not to play at all.

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My gaming partner and I have been rather inactive on the MMO front recently, due to Real Life(tm) constraints. We play infrequently enough that we only racked up 7 days played out of our 14-day free Vanguard trial, and did not make it off the trial island during that time. I also logged on to the Allods Online beta a few times, playing a different race, class, and faction than I planned to at launch so as not to burn out; unsurprisingly I was then unable to form an attachment to the character I created specifically for its disposability (although those Gibberlings sure are cute).

The more I learn about Allods, the more I realize it won’t be a game I will be able to enjoy due to its open-world PvP and group/guild-driven content. It looks and plays beautifully and I wish it every success – especially in breaking the common stereotype of free-to-play game inferiority. Given the limited spans of time in which I have to play, however, I simply cannot get heavily involved in a game that requires large amounts of group collaboration to proceed. This will probably result in my playing anyway, but having several characters parked around level 20. This is actually fine with me.

We miss Vanguard, and intend to return to it at some time in some capacity, but with Star Trek Online on the horizon we don’t consider it worthwhile to potentially maintain two subscriptions for games we barely have time to play (again I register my protest with the subscription model for requiring me to make decisions like this). Instead I am brushing up on my STO information, watching vidcasts and leaked beta footage, reading every piece of news and every interview that the developers see fit to release.

The last time my better half was excited enough about an upcoming MMO to pre-order it was when Warhammer Online was about to be released, and we had nearly six months of rip-roaring fun in that game. This was before shifting populations, class imbalances, and the server-merging tango caused us to cancel our subscriptions. But on the scale of Game Chosen to Fun Had, he’s 1 for 1, so when my partner makes excited noises about commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise via Gamestop pre-order, I know well enough to simply follow along and offer the services of my Borg bridge officer (courtesy Amazon.com pre-order, of course).

I still have reservations about several aspects of the game:

  • Ships are boring: Space combat looks boring to me, though I realize there are several complicated factors taking place at any given time; I am certain to suck at it because I suck at things I find boring and complicated. No, I never really played space games as a kid. Heck, I even sucked at Asteroid.
  • Moving like a plastic doll: Ground combat still looks a bit unpolished to me, but it’s getting noticeably better. The more beta footage I watch, the better I feel about it, so I’m open to changing my mind about this one.
  • Pretty Pretty Princess: I love the Star Trek franchise, for watching, but I’m not sure how much I will enjoy living in it. I haven’t had much success getting excited about games outside of a fantasy setting (sorry, Fallen Earth!), largely due to the lack of resources to dress my characters as prettily as I like. If there is a social clothing option for hanging out at the spaceports/Quarks equivalent, and/or the ability to dress my Captain in a TOS skirt uniform, this will go a long way to alleviate my worries. (I’m not a fan of the miniskirt per se, but do I like skirts and it certainly is a skirt)
  • What do you mean, “content?”: Will this game suffer from the lack of content issues that plague(d) Champions Online, and how will this manifest in a game that is said to have procedurally generated planets for exploring and episodic mission content? Would that mean that there are no planets to explore at launch, or only three out of thirteen Episodes are complete? How will this impact me, a 5-10 or fewer hour per week player?

However, I do love the following: 

  • NPC Bridge Officers/Away team members: Oh, Guild Wars henchman model, please allow me to make out with you for a moment. Thank you for letting me have the option of joining my better half’s away team, or join up with him with my own team of NPC pets for planet exploration. I think I love you.
  • Art style: It seems most people are either in the love or hate camps for the Champions Online graphic style, but I was rather on the fence about it once I realized I could turn cell shading off. The style Cryptic has gone with for STO is much preferred, however, and I find myself wishing they had gone in this direction for CO as well. I especially like the look of space – I don’t care if space isn’t as busy in real life – this is worlds more fun to look at, and I’m here to have fun.
  • These quotes:  

“Some of the systems you discover will have combat and others some will have non-combat missions. Many involve acquiring and delivering certain commodities like industrial replicators or medical supplies. There are also thousands of points of interest throughout space and on planet surfaces that can be scanned.

“You can bring this data back to planet Memory Alpha. Collect the right data, and you may learn how to create something new, or you may peak the interest of a prominent Bridge Officer who may offer to join your crew.

“What you can expect is that your Bridge Officers will often work something like mission Contacts. For instance, if you fly by a spatial anomaly, your science officer may speak up and say he detected some unusual activity, and prompt you to explore it.”

            Oh, please be like that for real, and not like the “bears, bears, bears” of Warhammer Online. If you can do this, Cryptic, I’m yours.

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It seems my suggestion that we try a Psionicist/Blood Mage duo for romping in Vanguard was the right decision, as we handily extinguished many a hobgoblin and stone dervish life in the Earth Den. My better half had a blast mind-bombing mobs into submission while sending off similacrums to fight others, with me giving a handful of hitpoints to top him up all the while. He’s even expressed interest in starting subscribing once our free trial is up, which is better than his opinion of four out of seven or so MMOs we have tried playing together, so I’ll take that and  run.

With just over a week left on our trial, and keeping in mind our gaming sessions run about 45 minutes to an hour per day and a half, we probably won’t get a chance to explore all three spheres to max level on the island. We’re both eager to try crafting and diplomacy, though, so we will probably take a break from adventuring and focus on those for the Thanksgiving weekend while our adventuring levels linger at 8. I got to craft an item for the first time last night, and I’m trying to find a way to compare it to Everquest II – where I loved the crafting –  because I’m not sure how I feel about it just yet. I just need more time to experiment with it, I suppose.

Unrelated to the above, my client has taken to freezing up on me while playing, requiring a force quit. It’s not annoying enough to keep me out of the game yet, but it does happen about once per gaming session, and usually just as we’re about to die, so it doesn’t keep me from the good stuff. I’ll need to check that out on the forums and see if there’s anything I can do about it, since I don’t remember the issue the last two times I played Vanguard.

Outlook: Hopeful

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans – and a happy Thursday to the rest of the world!

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It was an interesting weekend at Chez Casual Does as we worked through some character creation and the initial levels of Vanguard on the Isle of Dawn. Although initially elated by the ability to jump (after playing Dragon Age: Origins for the past week), my better half quickly tired of his Sorcerer. I suggested he try a Psionicist, because I know he loves crowd control, based on his Burglar in LOTRO and his Dominator in City of Villains.

He does seem to enjoy the Psionicist a great deal more, and is actually running around wanting to try out his new skills on various mobs instead of proclaiming the game is boring, so it looks like this choice will stick. Since he’s doing that, I opted to shelf my Cleric and roll a Blood Mage instead, so that we can both be ranged casters. He’s particularly good at playing characters with CC, while I’m rubbish at it. Meanwhile, I’m a bit terrified of what I’ve heard of the Blood Mage skillset, but I’m confident I can manage it with practice. At least I know I’ll have better luck with that than in trying to chase down mobs to hit with a hammer.

Chasing down mobs until they’re in melee range is a skill at which I will never excel. I can and have enjoyed melee characters in other games, but they have exclusively been those that allow auto-moving to your target, such as Guild Wars, or at least auto-facing targets like in LOTRO. I quickly get annoyed with all the “target not in range” or “must face target” messages and roll up a caster otherwise.

To me, the skill of moving to the target is one my character possesses, and not one I should have to hone as a player. An example of this is a Guild Wars assassin. The assassin has numerous skills that require certain placement to execute an attack. Once you select that skill, the assassin rushes, or teleports, to the target, and executes the attack (or fails if resisted). My assassin is the one who possesses that skill – I’m just the commander who tells her to. My skill as the player is in choosing to use that skill, and in knowing when to use it. Especially in Guild Wars, where you can only venture out into the world with 8 skills at a time, this is an important choice where my skills as a player matters and can make the difference between success and failure.

In other games, I’m expected to have the manual dexterity to place my character behind (or beside, etc.) my target in order to execute a backstab or other high-damage attack; all the more if I’m fighting another player. In this scenario, instead of my skill determining which attack to use at which time, I also must be faster than the AI, or more dexterous than the person I’m playing against. I have to teach my fingers how to execute a jump in mid-air, or how to run through an avatar to get behind it (neither are possible in Guild Wars, due to the missing z-axis and use of collision detection respectively).

I don’t like this type of play because, well, what does it have to do with my character’s abilities? Why should whether I keyboard turn or mouse turn, whether I jump around like a maniac in a game that has no keystroke for “block”, or whether I have perfected the jump-turn have anything to do with whether my character – the one actually trained in the arts of an assassin or warrior – can perform an attack?

Essentially, the only skillset I want to have to bring to the table in any given online RPG I play is found in my brain. I can accept failing to out-tactic or outsmart my opponent, whether AI or real person – it happens all the time! But if I wanted to pit my reflexes and manual dexterity against others, I’d play an arcade game or FPS instead (this is one reason why it worries me that the trend in upcoming MMOs seems to be leading them in a more arcade-like direction. There is a time for Tekken, and for me, when I’m playing an MMO is not that time).

Either that, or I want the ability to take some of the points I put into “bookworm brainiac” as a child and put them into “Nintendo fingers” instead.

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Tonight, my better half and I will begin the Isle of Dawn trial for Vanguard (technically, I started last night because I couldn’t wait to play with the character creator). I have tried the game two times before, once before the Isle of Dawn and once since. I didn’t stick with it not because I was terribly unhappy with the game, but because both times I sensed I was in over my head, a themepark visitor gaping in a sandbox world, uneasy with the lack of direction given and the level of skill required otherwise. I always knew that if I had the right tools at hand I would be back, though, because I am intrigued by this world, having passed up Everquest the First (and Ultima Online, and Asheron’s Call, etc.) when it emerged on the scene.

I think the hardest part about this trial is going to be deciding what to play. Vanguard’s classes are not as straightforward as I’m used to, and even though I’ve been gaming for years, I still haven’t hammered out exactly what my chosen class is. There are a lot of things that worked when I was playing a text-based game that don’t work in 3d, and things that worked in Guild Wars where you always have a balanced team of NPCs that don’t work when you’re only playing with one other person.

In StrangeMUD I played a Cleric who remorted as a Paladin, then specced as Crusader. This gave me pets, heals, good armor, some combat ability, and plenty of utility spells and buffs. So when I started Guild Wars, I started a Warrior/Monk, only to find that my Monking was best relegated to a hard res instead of healing myself or others on a regular basis. My main turned out to be, of all things, an Elementalist, since always having a(n NPC) healer along means one can forget about one’s mortality.

Since then, no real pattern has emerged; in LOTRO I started a Minstrel and decided I hated it the first time I had to heal in a group (no health bars to watch when healing in a MUD!), tried a Guardian and found I couldn’t draw aggro to save anyone’s life (I’m not sure there even is a taunt in Guild Wars), learned I haven’t the patience for a Burglar, and settled on a Hunter that can fire and forget. In Warhammer I tried and soon discarded a Sorceress, fell in love with a Shadow Warrior and got by with a Magus.

I know certain things about my playstyle, but I’m not certain they scream out for a particular type of class. As the Hunter suggests, I don’t like complicated skillsets; point me to the thing and I’ll kill it. I played my Shadow Warrior in Assault stance, knowing I don’t like to be squishy if forced into close battle and I can’t manage kiting, but I prefer to avoid melee if possible. My Magus was so-so in durability and I liked the ranged aspect, but managing my pet and its placement was more of a pain than anything else. I don’t do strategy and so I’m lousy with crowd control; I’d rather make the pull and deal with it or run in with guns blazing, so I really like to have heals at my disposal… but in a group battle I’d rather watch the action than health bars, so those outcomes are never good.

My better half is all about casters, so he is likely to go with a Sorcerer or Druid, which tells me I should probably go for a Cleric since I hear it’s a very “forgiving” class and I really need that. But I so dislike melee and healing in a group! If I hadn’t heard that Blood Mages are tricky to play I would go for that, but I have, so I won’t. I’ve swung back on this issue for most of the week, reading forums and Silky Venom for any tidbits of value that could tip my inclination one way or the other, and I’m no closer to a final decision now than I was when we first started thinking of giving this a try.

Leveling multiple alts until I love/hate one or the other isn’t really an option in a two-week trial, so our first impressions of gameplay will really make or break this one. Decision-making is hard! This is why I don’t play sandbox games alone.

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I have been enjoying my time in the Allods Online closed beta thus far, though I am still only level 5. I keep wavering between frustration at the server load of eager players hopping around, swarming quest mobs and nodes, and excitement of being among the first to experience the game in this way. Much like with the Warhammer Online preview weekend, I felt such a great camaraderie with everyone else asking where this or that mob was, or expressing wonder at this or that discovery.

It’s been interesting reading some of the impressions of the game so far: for some, it’s too much like WoW, while others offer suggestions for “improvements” that would make it even more so. My main problem is that I’m already nearing burnout; since I’ve been playing the Russian open beta, I’ve already gone through the same level 1-5 content roughly ten times now, and now I’ve got to stop before I ruin a good thing. I’ll just wait until the open beta when our characters will be allowed to continue to progress before I jump back in.

Between retiring Allods Online for the time being, and my decision not to re-up my Champions Online subscription, there has been a 100% increase in the amount of Dragon Age: Origins being played around these parts. Despite my loud protestations that I dislike single-player games, I managed to make it through at least one of the origins and the first little bit of the plot before taking an indefinite break. For me, the game is only enjoyable when I imagine myself playing alongside some other, real person (I admit to developing a crush on Alistair). My better half is still plowing his way through the story, though he’s adamant the story isn’t sandboxy enough for his satisfaction. Having watched him play through Oblivion and Fallout 3, I have to agree, though my experience in themepark MMOs have trained me not to run off the path so often and as a result I don’t brush up against the many invisible walls and impassable bridges in the DA:O landscape the way he does.

I’m not quite sure what exactly makes the difference between a more sandbox game like Oblivion, which allowed you to completely ignore the main quest and still have dozens of hours of enjoyment to milk out of the game, and something more linear, yet equally highly-rated, like Half Life 2 or Dragon Age, in which you cannot prevent major events from occurring and taking you along with them. I can’t imagine that these two types of games attract the same types of fans, judging from the muffled curses of “why can’t I kill this guy just to shut him up? Why can’t I go into this house? Why can’t I talk to this person? I could do this in Oblivion!” coming from next to me. I’ve been surprised to find that Syncaine has been enjoying the game as much as he has, and surprised again to agree with Tobold that I find DA:O’s replayability to be next to nil. After all, can you choose to become a Templar? Can you choose to be an apostate? These are questions my sandbox-loving partner asks, and he finds the answers wanting.

I don’t have an objection to this kind of sandbox play myself; I just find my imagination is lacking. I’m poor at setting my own goals in-game, so I’m happy to have someone set them for me. Meanwhile, we have tried about four MMOs together as a household and in every one I have started a new character, run up to the first quest-giving NPC, and turned around to find my better half stuck in a wall or having fallen off a cliff because he defied the straight and narrow path and wanted to do his own thing. With his vision and my MMO experience, we could be unstoppable, if only given the proper playground. Since he likes the fantasy genre and dislikes FFA PvP as much as I do, I’m left with one last option if we’re to find an MMO home as a duo:

We’re trying Vanguard: Saga of Heroes next.

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