Recently I have found myself quite interested in the upcoming Trion title ArcheAge. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. ArcheAge is an Asian-inspired fantasy sandbox title where player vs player combat is the norm coupled with a full player-driven crafting economy. MMO purists should be rejoicing, for those that constantly complain about the “downfall” of MMOs and the “dirty casuals” that infect the genre, this is a title that actively promotes their preferred style of play.
Believe it or not, I don’t subscribe to that ancient style of thinking. I take no joy in slaying other live players, or the imaginary competition of loot races, I’m not a fan of PvP. I’m also not a fan of crafting, either, as most crafting systems entail as much entertainment as watching grass grow. I get more enjoyment standing in front of my sink, instead of a crafting station, cleaning dishes for 20 minutes. That at least nets me clean dishes, something a lot more valuable to me than digital ingots.
Yet it’s the pureness of the concept, the overwhelming statement of “this is not the game for you” that is quite tempting. It’s a challenge and feels like the perfect chance to test whether this MMO style really is for me or not. Plus, it’s always good to try new things. So, ArcheAge beckons.
I didn’t pay for it, though. Despite the overwhelming prevalence these days of paid alphas and betas and the ridiculous prices thereof, there were plenty of free beta keys to go around. With that in hand I set the 20+ GB download to start and promptly went and played Marvel Heroes for a while. Don’t look at me like that. Marvel Heroes has come a long way since it started and is really a fun dungeon brawler! Nightcrawler is a freaking blast to play. About 2 hours of downloading ArcheAge later, though, I was able to get in.
Sure, this is a “water buffalo”… I guess…
Why is it in Beta, anyway?
First, I get it. This game doesn’t actually need testing. It’s been released in Japan for the past year, and Korea for the past year and a half. So this whole beta is nothing more than a sales ploy. At most, Trion is testing for translation accuracy and different cultural metrics so they can accurately determine prices for cash-shop items for the NA/European audience. That’s cool, though, and they’d be fools to not take advantage of the hype and make boatloads of money while they’re testing. In that effect, charging for alpha/beta makes sense. At least the game is polished and playable, which is a lot more than I can say for most paid betas.
Logging in, I created my first character, a
Charr Caitian Firran. As in most fantasy, the choice was elves, humans, other humans, and cat people. Throw in a short race, and you could have the lineup for every other fantasy game. Oh, wait… that’s being planned. I opted for the non-boring race that wasn’t aligned with those dirty elves. Some pretty great cutscenes followed, describing how the Firran were a nomadic race, how they were at war with the “other humans” and beat them but then became lazy and then got beat themselves, and how they were once more on the cultural upswing. Sweet. In fact, all the cutscenes were pretty sweet. Nice art style and good exposition that wasn’t useless or felt out-of-place.
Now THAT’s a moon.
We Heard You Liked Punctuation…
I approached my first NPC, I saw it, and I sighed heavily: A giant yellow exclamation point. This again? Could be me, could be that I’m getting old, but the yellow exclamation point has been done to death. They told me some short statement and sent me along the road to the next hub. Here, same, and they sent me to the next hub, and to the next hub, and to the next hub. Go kill 10 rats, then come back here so I can send you to the next hub. This is one of the many reasons I don’t play World of Warcraft anymore. This style of gameplay was popular and novel over a decade ago. It’s lame. We haven’t grown out of it yet? At least cover it up better to make it not FEEL like hub-jumping.
I know, though, that the whole point of ArcheAge isn’t the story. So these hubs just give brief exposition, a little cultural identity and send you forward, ever forward, sometimes without much sense, and very quickly. At the end of my session I was already level 10, and had been through 6 different quest hubs.
This is by far not the meat of ArcheAge. Sad thing was, though, this wasn’t even a real taste. If you want your whole game to be based around crafting, trade and PvP, then, I don’t know, why not have that from the very beginning? Why start with Game A and then slowly merge into Game B? If people are coming for Game B, then give them Game B! Why have them slog through Game A first, especially a really terrible, half-assed Game A?
So. Darn. Cute.
But, Wait! It’s not All Question Marks!
There were some really great novel concepts, though, that were shown in the introductory zone. Use of supplies to help build structures. Nice graphics. Musical instruments used by anybody to give bonuses and help in healing. Getting your first mount and raising it from a cub (alright, it took about a minute to fully grow, but it showed the promise of more). Having your mount fight by your side (couldn’t get this to work initially, my mount wouldn’t get out of follow, but the commands were there, so it’s coming), putting armor on your mount. Housing. Working with a farm.
The jewel, though, is the class system. Fully switchable and seems so deep it makes TESO’s look like child’s play.
I started with an offense “occult” as my first specialization. Next, I chose a physical “defense” style. Not sure if I can make those work, but who knows. Could be fun. Last, I picked a “music” style, because why not? The combination, as random as it is, is called a “Dark Aegis”.
A dark magic slinging, shield bearing, music blasting cat-man riding a huge fanged white lion. I can totally dig it.
A Dark Aegis and his snowlion, ready to… do something in the next zone, I guess.
If I’m allowed in future betas without paying, I’ll definitely keep it up. So far I feel like I truly haven’t experienced ArcheAge. I want to taste more and start getting to the real game before I make any lasting impressions or commitments. The game feels really solid and true to their intent, even if the starting zones may not fully reflect it. From watching ArcheAge streamers on Twitch like Pookahontus, even the PvP looks like a blast to play. Maybe I’ve just taken PvP a little too serious all this time.
But who knows if it will catch on. I’m an anti-social MMO gamer at heart and this is a cooperative game. But even in my casual style, if I can still feel like I make a contribution it may make it into my rotation.
My suggestion to you, dear reader, is that if you can snag a beta key you should at least give the game a shot. Like anything else, you never know if you’ll like it until you try it.
I am a creature of habit.
Sometimes those habits don’t quite mesh well with my hobbies, but that’s just the way it goes. Specifically, my gaming habits change dramatically with the changes of the seasons. I’ve found that during the fall and winter (last winter we got 68 inches of snow) I tend to stay indoors and will start picking up and playing more long-term games like MMOs a lot more seriously. During the summer, though, I head outdoors. BBQ’s, bars, camping, going down the shore, baseball games, disc golf, weekly Ultimate, you name it. So in the summer, gaming takes the far backseat. Sadly, writing about gaming goes with it. When I don’t play, I don’t have a lot to say (unless you want to hear about my Ultimate and disc golf exploits? Maybe?).
Walking Dead, Season 1. Complete. Damn, Telltale really is doing a fantastic job.
I realized I had a pattern to the way I play games way back during my young days of playing World of Warcraft. Back when I kept the subscription going year round on the “hope” that I would find time to play, but never did (what a fool I was). I found, though, that I kept coming back at the same time every year. Right in the middle of the Halloween festivities.
So from October to March, I’m all about gaming. From April to September, not so much.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped playing entirely. Quite to the contrary, I’ve found my tastes shift. I’ve really started getting into single player and indie games, finishing up games like Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2. Also playing a lot more mobile games like Tiny Tower, games that I can pick up on the go (Note: I use the phrase “mobile” and “games” in the same sentence very loosely, these mobile things are more like psychological traps).
Tiny Tower. Seriously, this game should come with a Surgeon Generals warning.
The latest MMO offerings this Spring really haven’t been enough to draw me away from this pattern, either. Here are a few very off-the-cuff thoughts:
Landmark – A Minecraft clone with better graphics. Pass. Sidenote: Why did they remove the Everquest title from Landmark? Are they now backpedaling, and cutting any possible link that would have existed between the two games? Sorry, just seems a little shady.
Elder Scrolls Online – Yet another fantasy hack and slash themepark MMO, wearing the trappings of Elder Scrolls, one of my favorite series. I won’t lie, the setting of a game means a lot to me. It’s why I’m still such a big fan of Star Trek Online after all this time. But when they remove the soul of the series, TESO doesn’t have much left that hasn’t been done before. The title may say Elder Scrolls, but it just doesn’t have the *soul* of Elder Scrolls and that’s a major turn-off for me. If it had been the same engine, but any other IP, I might have been more interested.
Wildstar – Looks a lot better than the others, I’ll give it that, but even the premise of Open Beta didn’t entice me. The telegraphing system looks to be just an evolution of The Secret World’s style, which is fine, but nothing drastic. The art style, though gorgeous in it’s bright colors is too reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s cartoon styling for me to not be reminded of it at every turn. Finally, the “elder game” looks to also be trying to grab that piece of the Warcraft pie, using the same raid-or-die approach. What this all says is that the game simply isn’t for me. I’ll leave all the real time-investment-heavy stuff to those of you with more time and interest.
ArcheAge – This may be the only title that has really piqued my curiosity as of late, but I’m not sure why. I don’t think sandboxes and I make a good fit. I don’t have the time to invest or the inclination to use others pre-made efficient builds, which most sandboxes require. But the whole “paying for alphas and betas” thing seems too sketchy. Pay a lot of money to be a part of a buggy experience and the chance you might get really tired of the game before it even launches? Ha! No thanks. If anything, the cost to be a part of alphas and betas should be LESS than the cost of the game when it launches. Stop this enticing with items nonsense and entice with price. I’ll wait for release, whenever that will be, to see if I’m still interested.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Not a long game, but frustratingly fantastic. Not to mention some of the awesome one-liners.
But in the meantime, I’ve heard that The Secret World’s Tokyo is right around the corner. Even though the hype of it has long since faded, I’ve read that it is still very much worth the wait. Star Trek Online has released Season 9, and has a new Featured Episode, which I hear is one of their best ones yet. My backlog is still plenty full and needs trimming, and then I’m still working on that old resolution list.
In other words, don’t mind me. I’m still here, just more in the background, getting as much out of summer as I can. Even if that means less gaming.
So, yeah, I’m a player of free-to-play titles, and I’m not ashamed of that. I won’t go out and buy the latest, got-to-have games, either. My brain just isn’t wired like that. I don’t feel any need to jump in to any first generation product without intense scrutiny and research first. This includes Elder Scrolls Online and upcoming Wildstar. I just don’t get the same thrill that others get from the hivemind, and I’m more apt to notice more flaws when I’m paying a premium price for the experience.
But, overall, I’m not cheap. Far from it. Gaming is a great hobby, but the software is only the surface of the experience. The only reason we enjoy the experience at all is because of the hardware we have backing it up. And when you upgrade your hardware, your gaming experience improves across every game you play, not just the latest shiny. For this reason, I’ll spend a lot more on hardware than I ever will on games. Go check out the MMO Juggler’s latest post on upgrading to a new sick 27″ Quad HD (1440p) monitor and try not to be jealous, I dare you. I mean just look at that Guild Wars 2 shot!
Look at it! It’s 1440 lines of awesome. Credit to the awesome MMO Juggler. Click on it to see the full size.
So lately instead of playing games, I’ve been researching and upgrading my hardware and tech and wanted to share the fruits of my labor with you. If you’re looking for great upgrades that are a great bang for your buck, check out this quick list.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
The standard hard disk drive, a stack of magnetic spinning platters, has been around since the 1950’s and has been the defacto storage for computers today. Over time the platters have been able to hold more, the data transfer speeds have improved, but hard drives have hit a limit on how fast they can be. The physical and mechanical constraints of how fast the plates can spin can only go so high.
The latest storage technology, though, is Solid State, and is found in flash drives, cell phones, and other small devices. Instead of spinning platters, Solid State uses a solid block of material, usually a crystalline semiconductor, and uses electromagnetism and quantum mechanics to store and dispense information. Woah. However, Solid State drives are still relatively small, and still way out of the price range of the average consumer.
But the Seagate Hybrid Drives are well within budget. Seagate has combined the speed of Solid State with the storage capacity and price of HDD. For maybe a modest 20% increase in price, A SSHD gives up to 4 times the speed and a 20% increase in overall responsiveness than a standard HDD. During the sale, I paid $75 for a 1 TB SSHD, which is less than what the standard cost of a 1 TB HDD normally costs! Until SSD’s drop in price, a SSHD is the best value going.
And installation? Couldn’t have been easier. Installing the drive into your case is just plugging the drive into the board, making sure it’s getting power from the PSU, tightening a few screws, then formatting the drive, cloning it with your current HDD, and finally setting the new drive as the main bootable from BIOS. That’s it. Trust me, you can do it.
So tiny, but it has breathed new life into my TV.
Without cable growing up and without cable now, we don’t watch much TV. However, that doesn’t mean we still don’t enjoy streaming video. We currently subscribe to Netflix, love Hulu, and are flirting with the idea of Amazon Instant Video. We also see nothing wrong with dropping a few bucks to stream movies or TV shows we want to see. It’s a new age.
Chromecast, at it’s basic premise, allows you to take any tab in Chrome and stream it directly to any TV with the device attached. On top of that, the Chromecast also has apps for popular services, so it doesn’t even run Netflix from your PC, it picks it up itself.
With this device, my TV is finally getting some use again, and it’s only $35, which is a lot cheaper than my XBox Gold sub was, and a lot less complicated.
Don’t give them more than you have to, especially for the “rented box”.
Do you know the difference between Docsis 2.0 and Docsis 3.0? Do you know which standard your cable modem is using? Do you know what your current Internet plan is capable of? If not, you may want to do some research.
By any stretch, Docsis 3.0 is not a new thing. Over 7 years old, Docsis 3.0 is a telecommunications standard that offers significant transmission speeds and quality over previous generations. However, due to lack of consumer knowledge, it is still not widely in use, even by those who are paying for the tiers to use it. Essentially, if you’re renting your cable modem box from your provider, you’re most likely still using 2.0 and paying them a monthly fee to do so.
This modem not only gives you a significant boost in speed and quality, if your service allows it, but it also frees you from that monthly rental fee! Faster speeds and it will pay for itself over time, this one is really a must-have for any serious internet user. This has gone up in price, too. It use to be $50 when it was a lot less known, but over time it’s gone up to where it is now at $70. Still a solid deal.
Installation might require a technician to come out and install it, and probably the safest way to do so to make sure it’s set up properly, but it can be self-installed. If you self-install, talking to support might still be necessary, though.
Doesn’t take up a lot of room, but boy does it fill up a space.
This came up on Woot for $40. I picked it up, and have been in love with it ever since. Heck, I didn’t even connect this to my TV for the first couple months I had it and it was still worth it!
Essentially, this speaker bar has multiple speakers, a subwoofer, and pairs smoothly with any bluetooth device, like every smartphone. Having podcasts playing or music around the house became a whole lot easier. Just pair the speaker with your phone, then start playing music. Done.
I then took it a step further and attached it to my TV and suddenly instead of the tinny embedded TV speakers, a much more rich full sound emerged. I watched The Avengers (not usually a superhero fan, but the speaker needed a good test… good movie, though) and the sound alone blew my mind. Paired with the Chromecast from above, I don’t think I’ll ever stream to my computer again. The difference in quality is that substantial.
If you see it again for $40, it’s a must buy, but that price is ridiculously low for a sound bar. Lowest price for a new one is looking around $80, which would cause me to balk. However, if you catch one on a decent sale, it’s well worth the price.
Small, but more than enough to do the job.
My old card, a PNY GeForce GTX 460, has been showing signs of aging and it has come time to replace it. A video card upgrade always rocks, but the EVGA GeForce GTX 750 is a solid card that can work in a much wider range of systems.
Going from the 460, though, I didn’t know how much of an increase I was going to get. The 460 is twice the size, took up it’s own rails from the power supply, and was a solid workhorse. In comparison, the 750 uses 60% less power, is tiny, and doesn’t need to be plugged into anything but the board. It is a few generations newer, though.
So, for the budget $105 I paid for the card, I wasn’t expecting a significant upgrade. What I got, though, was a significant upgrade. Before installation, I took the time and performed a few benchmarks to see exactly how much of an upgrade I would get, using the 3DMark11 software, which is conveniently available through Steam.
Aside from the Physics scores, which are taking a small hit, I found an across the board 35%-47% increase in graphics processing! So anything having to do with lights, shadows, surfaces, and textures are all getting a serious bump. Not bad. The increase in airflow and power savings would be worth it alone, but the performance increase makes it a solid upgrade.
My system before was no slouch, either. I could play almost any game on full settings easily. Now, though, it’s even easier to do so, and this card should last me a good long time.
Okay, so I’m not the best at cable management. So sue me.
So, overall, the next time you think of dropping a huge sum on the latest and greatest game that’ll cost you $60 for a few weeks play, think about possibly using that for a tech upgrade instead.
You might miss out on one game, but it’ll make the rest of your games a lot more fun.
P.S. – And trust me, if you miss the latest game that everyone’s playing just this once, you’ll live.
This thought has come to mind a little too often for me, lately. Do we enjoy difficulty? If we claim a game we are playing to be difficult, is this a good thing, or a bad thing? On the surface, I would say my individual answer is yes. I know I personally enjoy a game that is more challenging, one that takes a bit of thought process or learned skill to get through. But are the games we are playing really difficult, do we just convince ourselves that they are, and do gamers today really want difficulty?
This topic is a lot more complex than the surface belies. As so happens, one of the myriad podcasts that I listen to, How To Murder Time (which I highly suggest you listen to as well), recently delved into the topic of difficulty, covered it pretty extensively, and led me to this post.
MMO Skill is an Illusion
What is difficulty, anyway? I think this is where the root of the issue lies. Difficulty can have a whole plethora of different meanings. The first one that jumps to mind, and the first one the podcast brings up, is “twitch” skill. It’s found in it’s purest form in games that don’t offer many character development options and has level design that keeps getting more and more challenging, like Super Meat Boy. The Super Mario games are a great example, too. Sure, Mario can get larger by ingesting fungus but overall it’s the levels that increase in difficulty. Completing the game becomes the accomplishment. It pits a specific level of skill that, if yours is too low, you’ll never beat the game.
But what game nowadays has that kind of challenge? Even FPS multiplayer shooter games like Titanfall, which just released, has leveling progression in which you gain experience to attain access to better weapons and a bigger toolset to use against your foes. If you’re then faced against a new, lower level player, sure, the lower level has a chance to use their skill to beat you, but the higher level players still have a decided edge. In this sense, are we leveling just to make content easier? Do we even want difficulty at all, if we work hard to nullify it?
You’ve seen the roosters strutting around in whatever MMO you’re playing these days. Those peacocks of the gaming world, strutting around in all the best and shiniest gear. And good for them, it shows their dedication to the game that they were able to get their hands on said loot. But was it really difficult to do so?
I call this place… Pain in the Ass Tower.
In the grand scheme of things, here is the defacto MMO progression:
- Do content, get loot, level up.
- Use levels and loot to do higher level content, get better loot, level up.
- Repeat until max level.
- Continue to run content and get more loot (or just take the shortcut and buy it from other players on the auction house), which makes top level content easier.
- Keep running content until maximum loot power is achieved and game becomes too easy.
- Leave game out of boredom/complain about not having enough content on forums.
At that point, even the most difficult content becomes a cakewalk, but we’ve earned that through the time we put in to get that loot. Reward is good. But the entire time during this progression, the difficulty really hasn’t changed. We level up, our gear levels up, and the content matches difficulty stride for stride. It’s a linear progression. We do normal dungeons until they get too easy, then we do elite dungeons until they get too easy, then we do nightmare dungeons until we gear up to maximum and stop running them as they become too easy.
Our reward for running content is just to make content easier.
I’ve even heard content in The Elder Scrolls Online becomes trivial if you come back to it overleveled. A boss that gave you a hard time in the past suddenly is not so tough when you’re 10 levels higher, are they? The difficulty in TESO, then, just comes in rushing forward too fast. I am starting to hear more and more good things about the “exploration” aspect of TESO, but have yet to be convinced that it’s more than an illusion buried in the willing suspension (which relates to the next section).
The Walking Dead isn’t a difficult game to play, it’s a difficult game to *watch*.
Puzzle Solving is Entirely Optional
But difficulty through skill is not the only level of difficulty. As Jon and Tim go on to discuss, it could also be about puzzle-solving. This is my favorite, by far, and one of the reasons I love The Secret World. As a content filler gap they recently just added four new investigation missions to the game, which I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of TSW. I’ve already completed one, and without giving away any details, I had to pull some real mind-bending out-of-game stuff to figure it out (keep a smartphone handy).
But this kind of difficulty is only challenging to the player that wants to do it in the first place. Puzzle difficulty is entirely by choice if the player wants to challenge themselves or not. I’m not one to cheat, but sites like Youtube, Dulfy.net, TSWDB.com, Star Trek Online wiki, and a plethora of others just hand out the answers to anyone willing to search. I even had a search term today that led someone to this site where they were looking for the answers to one of the new TSW missions! They just came out on Tuesday! They didn’t find it here, of course, but that they even were looking in the first place means something.
This isn’t a recent issue, though. I remember buying games at Gamestop and part of the salesperson’s spiel was to try to sell the guide to go along with it. Nothing has really changed, except it now costs a lot less effort and money to find the answers to these puzzles and quest guides.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
And find those answers gamers do in droves. So much that it’s even demanded by the community in some situations:
Oh, going into a dungeon you’ve never been in before and you haven’t researched it? What a scrub. What, do you just want to be carried by everyone else? You want to waste everyone else’s time? How lazy and selfish!
Seriously, this is why I don’t PUG or have any want to run group content at all. The communal expectation to be professionally knowledgeable about dungeons you’ve never set foot in are too high. There is no such thing as a noob the second those guides hit the internet, only “selfish” gamers.
Then it comes back to the skill to perform the guides steps, but “skill” in MMOs is really intrinsically linked to one’s Gearscore (read: random loot tables over time). That’s why the demands you see from the community for running PUGs keeps getting more and more ridiculous. These elitists don’t want a challenge! They don’t want to enjoy content with strangers! They’re lazy and want the most reward given for the least amount of effort, and so demand that from others, unceremoniously booting those who don’t live up to their demanding standards. Only those on the right side of the bell-curve may apply.
Can you tell I’m a little burnt out and jaded?
Still one of my favorite moments all-time from MMO gaming.
Wrangling Herds of Cats, Though
Finally, there is, arguably, the only real true form of challenge left posed by MMOs today: dealing with each other. Kind of the point of MMOs right? Playing with others? But the highest level raid content, or just content made too difficult to solo is in these games for a reason. And that is the challenge of working with and coordinating a group of people who are all only looking out for their own self interests. The content itself may not even really be that difficult (of course it’s not, “correctly” geared players mitigate the risk of failure), but organizing a group of 10-15 people to all do the same thing at the same time, with no real guarantee of reward, is impressive as hell!
The amount of time and energy driven to herding players to a single goal is outstanding. I know. Not from gaming, mind you, but I was a higher-up in a student run theatre company, and the experience is very similar. In the professional world, at least employees are being paid, but getting people to be dedicated to a common goal when it won’t put food on their table is not exactly easy. It’s why I put my time in theatre on my CV. It shows the skill of leadership when your charges are only present of their own whims. Having formal education in human psychology and group dynamics, though, doesn’t hurt.
However, I’d still caution against putting “Raid Leader” on a resume, if only because the social stigma against gamers is still heavily present in society. The skill, though, the pure skill of human wrangling, is universal and still quite impressive.
I’ve never wanted to punch a cloud in the face so much.
More Than A Struggle
Aside from having to deal with each other, we’ve gone from the days of a game’s content becoming easier with actual time, practice, and mental gymnastics, to becoming easier through in-game power ups and cheats. Do we get the same amount of accomplishment, though? I think what we gain is a lot more tangible.
We get great stories, we get great visuals, we get a sense of accomplishment not only at the end, but all the way through. We get lost in a great world. We get shared achievement. We get a thriving community that we can gladly raise our hand and claim to be a part of. We get a sense of belonging.
We get everything but difficulty.
I’ve finally built a character I think I’ll like. Like my original plan, my character is focusing on Blunt Weapons, Restoration Magic, and Dodge, and lesser skills Medical, Illusion Magic, and Critical Strike. On top of that, I gave my Argonian a boost of magic points, rapid healing, and a bonus to hit humanoids and then to balance out the good stuff, forbade the use of plate armor, long blades, and axes. This seems good, and I get out of the tutorial dungeon relatively easy.
Bears. Sure. Easy.
After making my way out, the tutorial post congratulated me, and then said it would contact me in 7 days and suggested I start making my way toward the town of Daggerfall. Sounds reasonable. However, opening the travel map, it says Daggerfall is *8* days out. Well, I don’t want to miss what’s going to happen, so I instead opt to travel to the closest town, Gathway Gardens, which appears to be only one pixel on the map away. Sweet. I turn south and start running.
In a straight line, too.
TEN MINUTES LATER I finally arrive at the town. Ten minutes? Seriously?! I’m going to need to get around faster than this. Since my bags are brimming with loot, I find a general store and sell off a few things, and go broke buying a horse. Well, at least the horse will improve travel times significantly.
With that I auto-travel the rest of the way to Daggerfall quickly enough, and since I’m broke, start asking around for work. NPCs are really here in the game as fodder. They point you from one location to the next, dispense information, and that’s it. Ask them more than one question, and they also start giving a bit of attitude.
In the meantime, I pick up a quick delivery job. Doesn’t pay significantly, and is a simple delivery quest, but whatever. A job is a job. I’m to deliver a strapless wedding gown to this General Store’s customer in town. … it ends up being this guy.
I have your strapless wedding gown for you… sir?
Gotta love procedural generation.
I pick up another job, but this one is of a little more importance. The rescuing of a shopkeeper’s young cousin. Now we’re getting somewhere. He tells me she’s being held at the Citadel of Gaersley and that it’s filled with orcs. I killed one of them in the tutorial dungeon, so no problem. This is going to be cake. I make my way there, enter the citadel, and the bastard lied to me. Orcs? ORCS?! Not an orc in sight. Werewolves and giant scorpions, though, this place has in spades and both can one shot me.
Running. Running is good.
I become REALLY familiar with the Save/Load functions, but I do find enemies I can still dispatch. Burglars, thieves, archers, giant bats, they fall before me. But the giant scorpions paralyze me, which is a quick death, and the werewolves just maul me to pieces. For a brief second, I even saw an ancient lich. This is NOT a level 2 dungeon! After about 50 or 60 deaths, probably more, inexplicably, I stumble across my charge. I pick her up, and we make a beeline for the door.
Back in Daggerfall, with the whole mission taking a total of 5 days, we return to a snow filled scene on the day of a holiday. A holiday? This game has holidays, too?! Even better, each province celebrates their own holidays! So a holiday that is celebrated in the Alik’r Desert may not be celebrated in Wayrest.
It’s the day of South Wind’s Prayer, the 15th of Morning Star (January), where all religions give a prayer on the hope of a good planting season (hopefully they’re not planting in the snow, though). Not long after entering the gates, a courier approaches and delivers a note. It’s from Lady Magnessen of Daggerfall and tells me to meet her at an inn where she is staying to discuss my mission. I also get a note from Princess Morgiah of Wayrest saying she knows of this note, and to come to Wayrest to speak to her, too.
An Argonian named Ocho… that should be your first clue something isn’t right.
Plot! Wait… what IS my mission? Oh, right, according to the log, it’s to find out why King Lysandus’s spirit is haunting Daggerfall and to find some letter sent to the Queen of Daggerfall.
So far Daggerfall is turning out to be better than I expected. Procedural generation out the wazoo but what it lacks in depth it makes up in size, like a humongous puddle… in a good way. This isn’t some remote province, this is a HUGE world and it really feels huge, too! Also, it isn’t about hand-holding either. You’re not some fortold savior like in Skyrim or Morrowind, you’re an average joe-shmoe, and boy does the game let you know that, too.
Well let’s go see what the Lady Magnessen has to say.
I always say that you have to take everything you read on the Internet with a pound of salt, and April Fool’s Day is no exception. At least on April 1st, though, the posts are a lot more funny.
I took that pound of salt when I logged on and saw that Neverwinter was releasing a few new things. “Sure”, I thought. “What awesomeness is it going to be that won’t be real and I’ll be disappointed that it’s not real?” They had three things on the April Fool’s docket: A new Dragon class, a Gelatinous Cube mount, and a new skirmish where your characters are pieces on a D&D board. Ha ha, Cryptic. Very funny. The dragon class is obviously a prank, but the other two just sound really awesome, so it’s too bad it’s April Fool’s…
But lo and behold, Cryptic wasn’t joking. Yes, the dragon class is fake, but the Cube mount and the skirmish are totally real! And they are both a thing of nerdy goodness.
My companion does not look that impressed with my new mount. She also doesn’t seem worried that I’m surrounded by acidic ooze.
I logged on last night and gladly forked over 800 zen for the mount. It hits all the right receptors as it bounces and slimes around town, wobbling just as one would expect a jelly cube to bounce. I love it. If a lime green jello mold could be adorable, this one definitely is.
Up for offer, too, was “Respen’s Marvelous Game” which completing 15 times netted a new Green Slime Companion! Since all of my companions are basic (get it? GET IT?!), and the next time I see 300,000 AD to upgrade them may be never (but then it may happen if I keep using Bing), the Slime would only take one night of grinding the skirmish. Cake.
This makes my Pathfinder playin’ self so happy.
However, Respen’s Marvelous Game truly shined and delivered a heavy dose of geekery. Designed for characters from level 6-60, your character becomes a miniature on a D&D map, on it’s own little base in an epic pose. You then make your way through two different randomized dungeons. The first, the one I encountered more often, is a stereotypical dungeon filled with baddies, all the while the DM Respen is narrating as you go, fantastically using different voices for all the characters you encounter.
The second adventure is a search for an elven princess who has been kidnapped and involves going through the woods from place to place trying to find her, with events randomized. I loved near the end, after defeating an orc summoner, he says “With his dying breath the orc finishes the ritual and summons <audible dice roll> a pit fiend!” and a huge winged demon bursts from the ground.
Yes, we’re beating on a 20-sided die. Respen ran out of miniatures for orcs and goblins and used dice.
In order to get the companion, I had to complete the run 15 times, but since each run only took about 5-10 minutes, it wasn’t that bad. I got kicked out of a few groups for being too low level (elitists <shakes head>… damage was scaled so that we were all on equal footing, but my being level 35 still somehow annoyed the 60s that they couldn’t cope for 5 minutes). Sometimes I ended up on the top of the charts, other times near the bottom. Standard stuff. There wasn’t a time, though, when a dungeon was too hard to beat.
All in all, Cryptic showed what it does best. Quick, easy to group content that felt a lot more epic than it had any reason to be, lots of fun, and coupled with nice rewards for a decent effort. Well played, Cryptic.
The awesomeness is too much to take.
I always thought ArenaNet were the masters of MMO April Fool’s, but it seems there’s a new contender in town.
P.S. – I recently updated my Characters page to show all of the different MMO characters I play. Feel free to add me as a friend and send a message if you see me in game. :)
An oozing ball of green slime that I could call my very own.
P.P.S. – Sadly, I realized that as this is about to post that it will be too late to head into Neverwinter if you wanted to try the April Fool’s content. My hope is that this awesomeness is too good for a one-off event, and they’ll periodically be bringing this back. It’s too much fun not to.
Strong words there, Bethesda. Alright. First things first:
Well, as luck may have it, and through the benevolence of Bethesda, you can download Daggerfall right from their website! I still have a copy of the game around here… somewhere… but this link worked much faster.
Note: I’m not going to lie, the installation and altering of config files may be outside the comfort zone of some, but as long as you follow directions, you’ll also learn more about your PC and there is nothing wrong with that.
The next piece of software we’re going to need is DOSBox, an uber handy Dos emulator that singlehandedly allows sites like GoG.com to stay in business.
After installing DOSBox, the next step comes down to tweaking it’s settings, and installing the game itself. Thankfully, there’s a handy pdf doc inside the Daggerfall zip that details step by step instructions. I found that following the instructions worked flawlessly. After booting up DOSBox, the next steps involve mounting the hard drive, mounting a faux-CD drive, and installing the game itself.
I mean, who *doesn’t* love DOS?
After the game is installed (I suggest creating a basic folder direct on your C: drive, like above), then comes the tweaking of DOSBox’s config file. In a nutshell, keep following the pdf’s instructions, but then throw in a few alterations of your own. I suggest changing the screen size to something that is more comfortable on today’s monitors. For example, here is a Daggerfall screenshot at full-size resolution:
320×200. I imagine kids today wondering how we played games on such *tiny* screens.
The monitor I’m using now has a native resolution of 1600×900. Not exactly 1080 (1920×1080), but not too shabby, still in the high definition range. However, playing Daggerfall at a full screen resolution stops you from doing basic things like alt-tabbing out. I suggest playing in a window at setting 1125×900, which seems to work best for my screen size.
In fact, here’s a link to a copy of the entire DOSBox config file that I have found optimal to use. By all means, if you are installing the game, too, feel free to use it.
Now with installation complete, the next major step involves creating a character that isn’t completely messed up. Like many other Elder Scrolls games, character creation is so deep in it’s customization that you can seriously create a borked character right off the bat. I won’t lie, I’m on my fourth attempt trying to create one that I think I would really enjoy, and that will relatively get me through the game.
The first character I created, I based off of characters I have enjoyed in every Elder Scrolls game in recent memory: A leather wearing, shield and mace wielding powerhouse, slinging illusion magic and backing it all up with restoration magic when the odds turn.
Since there really isn’t a class like this of the group, I created a custom class, picked a whole bunch of stuff that sounded nice, Blunt Weapon, Restoration, Dodging, Illusion, Streetwise, Etiquette, Backstabbing, etc, picked an Argonian, and started it up. The game handed me a longsword as a starting weapon… I couldn’t make it past the first giant bat.
Alright, so… instead of creating something by hand, maybe the game’s question system would work? Similar to those Buzzfeed quizzes we see everywhere. Why not?
I’m all about the sweetrolls.
It said I would be a good Monk. A Monk is a pretty badass character… in theory. A monk uses their mental discipline, so your primary weapons are your fists and your only armor is your skin. Oh, and no magic, either. Sounds like a great challenge, getting through the game punching bears in the face and using only your fists as bad guys wearing plate and slinging magic come charging at you… but it’s not really my style. Thank you, but I like to actually USE the loot and magic I might pick up. Still awesome that it’s there, though.
Looking at the list of 18 classes, the closest thing that looks like it could work would be a modified Healer. I’d make Blunt Weapons a Primary, drop Medical to a Major, add Backstabbing and Stealth to the list of Minors, Boost Illusion as well, and then through the use of secondary character traits, force the game to start me off with a blunt weapon.
Onward and upward.
Daggerfall: Part 1
So after Friday’s post about The Elder Scrolls Online and how it doesn’t really “feel” like an Elder Scrolls game, I decided to start playing the only game of the Elder Scrolls series I haven’t played yet: Daggerfall.
Long ago I played the game Arena, my first foray into The Elder Scrolls, which was easy as it is the first title of the series. I loved it. As a role playing game, it was all about the exploration and was one of the first real games where I could just go off in any direction and find adventure. Sure, procedurally generated and nothing but dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl adventure, but adventure nonetheless. Story took such a backseat that I really didn’t know what the story of Arena was. There was something about finding staff pieces and putting them together, some big bad guy. That’s about all I remember. I never completed Arena, though, the most I ever got was three staff pieces.
But still, that taste was enough. The pure freeform exploration, the fantastic loot, heard about only through rumors near a local tavern, and having to hunt down the exact locations. The freeform magic, creating your own spells with a multitude of different effects. The absolutely staggeringly humongous world that was Tamriel.
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio…
Over time, and with latest iterations, the story of The Elder Scrolls has turned front and center. Morrowind shaved down the land size considerably, and traded the full continent for one province and a handful of cities. Morrowind still had a decent number of guilds, though. Oblivion comes along and really ramps up the story, but at the expense of guilds. There’s only a handful now. Finally we have Skyrim, which has as much of a story as Oblivion and as many guilds, but rewards exploration a lot more as little side quests are everywhere. It also brings back the procedurally generated quests so that, technically, it never ends. In other words the series has shrunk over time, story has become a much greater focus, but the tenets of exploration, skill building, freeform character building, and open worlds still hasn’t left.
Daggerfall has a story, I’m sure. I’ve read the books all about the “Warp in the West” which refers to the events from Daggerfall. It retains a lot from Arena as far as dialogue with NPCs, towns, and the like, but then takes a huge number of steps forward when it comes to guilds. The number of guilds is stunningly ridiculous (There are 6 categories of factions, but each category has multiple branches). Also, this is the first game of the series to chop down the focus size to something smaller, focusing on the region of the Illiac Bay, High Rock and Hammerfell.
This map puts Daggerfall at 62,394 sq. mi. in size, so it is disputable the main size… but even this puts the game world at 3,900 times the size of Oblivion. (click to enlarge)
However, making the focused region smaller, they did NOT make the game world smaller. In fact, it is considered the largest game world of any game, only now being contested by games like Minecraft that can procedurally generate forever. Some stats on Daggerfall, by Bethesda: The size of the game world is similar to the size of Great Britain, 88,745 sq. mi., featuring 15,000 towns, cities, villages, and dungeons, and 750,000+ NPCs. Walking from one town to another in the game could literally take hours. Hours!
I don’t know how far I’m going to get, if I’ll encounter any real story or not, but I guess we’ll see.
P.S. – This also doesn’t mean I’m necessarily finished Game 1, Gabriel Knight, I’m just taking a break from it. You know how it is.
This has been my main thought concerning The Elder Scrolls Online recently. I’d like to think that I have a pretty open mind when it comes to games, and I don’t just offhandedly dismiss a game simply because it’s not one of my preferred styles. I play games from all styles, and all forms, and will try anything once.
So being a huge Elder Scrolls fan, when I received a beta invite for TESO I excitedly jumped in head first! What I saw in TESO, though, confused me.
See, if you’re going to create a game based on previous fantastic games, it needs to retain the same “feel”. Mechanics can change, for example, but the Final Fantasy games have always “felt” like Final Fantasy. Why was there so much flak about the new Dungeon Keeper game? The feeling changed, it went from a fun dungeon builder to a P2W time grind. Why has the Assassin’s Creed series been so successful? The feeling has stayed the same.
The Elder Scrolls Online simply doesn’t feel like Elder Scrolls.
I should know that feel, too. Of the Elder Scrolls games I have fully completed, there’s Arena, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. The only one I haven’t really played is Daggerfall. That’s always been on my list of games to play, though, and I do plan on eventually getting around to it. How could I not? It’s one of my favorite series.
So I went into TESO already having a loose plan about my character. I was going to be swinging a one hand mace, bearing a shield, wearing leather armor, and wielding a combo of illusion magic and healing magic. This combo in other TES games is wicked. The shield gives great survivability and control, the mace stuns, the armor is light enough to be stealthy, but can take a few hits, illusion magic confuses enemies, gives more control, and healing gives me an “oh shit” button. It’s a stealth character overall, very rogue-esque but in a “hiding in plain sight” sort of way, and awesome to play.
Well what did I find when I got there? Same old trinity. I was told my build would be most suited for a healer, and that it would be a bad healer. I’d have to get a staff, and ditch the leather armor. I’d be crippling my character from the start. Listen, I get it, it’s an MMO and has to come with the illusions of choice that gamers demand. MMOs “have to work” under “trinity guidelines” with “classes” in order to “work right”. Or something. It has to be just like every other MMO out there or it will fail… for reasons.
And the questing, although I hear it’s a little different when you reach the top, is still very linear. Right off the boat (or right out of jail, as most Elder Scrolls games work), I couldn’t just pick a direction and go, only coming back to the main story when I reach a “oh yeah, I forgot that was even there” moment. I’ve heard you can do this once you reach higher levels, but by then what’s the point? You’ve already been led by the carrot from ride to ride, and suddenly be given a different game. Well where was that game in the beginning? Consistency is much better than Bait and switch.
I physically have TESO currency! Maybe I could use it to buy more interest in the game itself… It’s awesome, though, given to me by Tushar from Technical Fowl.
In other words, it may have the lore and be dressed as Elder Scrolls but it doesn’t have that feeling, that spark, that makes the Elder Scrolls games a masterpiece of modern gaming. This difference is more than enough to kill it for me.
The sad thing is that if the game wasn’t using the Elder Scrolls IP and was using a totally new IP, I would probably have more interest. But this? This is a spinoff. Just like the show Joey was a spinoff of Friends.
Will it do well? Who is the primary audience? Elder Scrolls fans like myself, who see it for what it is? Or MMO fans who don’t see much bother in playing single player games, but want the powerful zeitgeist that is Elder Scrolls? I really hope it does well. I’m curious to see if ZeniMax can keep up the expectations of monthly, meaningful content (at least past the first three months). And who knows, down the line it may turn into a game that lives up to the Elder Scrolls name, and I may find myself picking it up when it goes on sale.
However, until it starts living up to that name I’ll be on the sidelines holding onto my wallet in the hopes of receiving a product I’ll be happy with.