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Wildstar: the First 4 Hours

Okay, let’s get started.

Auspicious.

Auspicious.

This screen was a bit disconcerting considering I hadn’t even made a character yet. As it turns out, it was defaulting to the beta server which… still exists? Weird.

Here we go.

Here we go.

I have mentioned it before, but I have a huge issue with character creation in any game. Namely, analysis paralysis:

Analysis paralysis or paralysis of analysis is an anti-pattern, the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises. A person might be seeking the optimal or “perfect” solution upfront, and fear making any decision which could lead to erroneous results, when on the way to a better solution.

Pretty much the only reason I purchased Wildstar and am playing in the Head-Start is because I have some friends who have decided that it was a good idea to get back together. Which is great… but these are largely the same people (with two big exceptions) who quit WoW a few expansions ago, quit GW2 within the first two weeks, and otherwise jump from game to game. In other words, there be issues.

In fact, there were some issues right from the start: one of the friends is gung-ho for PvP servers and already rolled on Warbringer as Dominion, then tagged us all in a Facebook post to let us know. There’s little doubt that if I went with him, most everyone else would follow. So, do I try and keep everyone together? Or do I herd as many friends as possible to a PvE server where the likely 1-month survivors will have more fun? Once that (easy) decision was made, I had to, you know, pick a PvE server. Obviously the Full ones were out, but should I go High or Medium? What is the server known for? And what kind of question is that, on Day 1 of the Head-Start?

Precipice.

Precipice.

Ultimately, I defaulted to Exile on Evindra, simply because I saw a few other bloggers mention it.

While this over-analysis might seem strange, from my perspective few people realize how absurdly critical realm selection is. Had I not picked the Recommended server on Auchindoun-US back in the day, my six-year relationship with these people would have never existed. Hell, I resisted getting a mic for almost all of TBC precisely because I did not want to grow attached to people I would never meet but nevertheless feel an obligation towards. Now? We’re sharing hotel rooms at GenCon.

Maybe I would have met a different set of friends on a different server, and I’d be talking about them. Maybe I would have met no one and quit the game years ago. I’m aware that realm selection was just one step on a sequence of causality leading up to the Scarlet Monastery run that led them to inviting me to Invictus. But, dammit, this right here is where you start collapsing the waveform.

Realm decided, I was immediately presented further dilemmas:

 

How much Dunk in your Bundka?

How much Donk in your Bondka?

Just kidding. That’s an easy decision.

Aww shoot, indeed.

I’d pay someone, like, $5 for that name.

So, as of right now, I’m (steam)rolling around as an Exile Medic named Azuriel. The class is pretty fun thus far, which is quite a relief as it was one I did not have any beta experience with. Mobile and hard-hitting Science? Yes, please.

I’m still interested in Engineer assuming that the DPS/fun issues I had in beta are addressed, and I have yet to try Warrior or Esper. I’m weary about being rooted to the ground for my primary attack with some of these classes, but at the same time you unlock alternate filler attacks later, so… it’s tough.

Two other items of note:

Irony.

Irony.

First, in perhaps the most comical bug fail I’ve ever seen, clicking the Report as Spammer button on any of the numerous gold sellers in chat results in an instant Crash-2-Desktop. The spam cleared up by itself once out of the starter zones, but I’m still laughing at the implicit message being sent.

Next, the opposite scenario of a full designer win:

The devs as indeed listening, apparently.

The devs as indeed listening, apparently.

I am a little hesitant to declare total victory, but preliminary reports indicate Skill Trainers have been consigned to garbage bin of bad game design where they belong.

Checkmate, atheists.

Definition: Insanity

With great reluctance and a heavy sense of resignation, I took GreenManGaming up on their 22% off coupon for Wildstar. Day One purchases are for chumps, and that goes doubly so for MMO releases, but… well, if all your friends are jumping off bridges, you might as well join them. Attempting to apply that game code resulted in this:

And so it begins...

And so it begins…

Repeated attempts eventually got through but we’ll see how it all goes down this weekend. Will my friends stick around in this game (not likely)? Will I find an agreeable method to fund my subscription entirely through in-game gold (possibly)? Will there be many, exhaustive posts detailing everything I find wrong with the game (indubitably)?

Still, this is what you guys pay me to do, so I will trooper on.

Also: Press™.

Bioshock Infinite Impressions: Day 1

I am hoping things get better than this.

Granted, I do not consider myself “in the game” quite yet; given how prominently Elizabeth displayed, I’m guessing everything up to her will still be considered tutorial. Of that tutorial though, some things are becoming more and more clear to me:

1) Fantastic visuals have the opposite effect on me.

The visuals, objectively, look awesome. The visuals are also immensely distracting. When I am trying to shoot a guy with a pistol, seeing a particularly well-done cumulus cloud in the background adds nothing positive to that gameplay experience. I had the same issue with Battlefield 3 in the beginning – it was difficult to “see” enemies amidst the Ultra-High settings – so this is something likely to get better over time, e.g. when I start tuning out the visuals.

Just gotta ignore all of this.

Just gotta ignore all of this.

Incidentally, I never had this problem with Borderlands 2, and I think that is because the moments of cel-shaded beauty are more spaced out, and act as breaks inbetween more functional battlefield back-drops. I don’t want ugly games, of course, just games where you are not overloaded with visuals at time when precision and quick reflexes are called for.

2) Thus far, the theme isn’t all that compelling.

In the original Bioshock, the theme was taking Libertarianism to its extreme conclusion – a gaming subject matter particular novel for its time. Bioshock 2 introduced the opposite, showcasing the nefarious side of Collectivism. While it is still early yet, Bioshock Infinite’s theme of religious extremism slash Isolationism slash historical fetishism is… somewhat rote in comparison.

Bigoted religious cults in videogames are right up there with zombies, Nazis, and demons when it comes to stereotypical bad guys. This might be the first time we have seen such (intentional) overt racist imagery in a game, but I feel like I can already plot the rest of the story from here. There is still plenty room for surprises… yet Bioshock Infinite is going to have to surprise me, lest its thematic message be no different than the one you have seen dozens of times in the 32-bit era, or watching Glenn Beck for more than ten minutes.

Also… aside from some nice clouds and sunsets, so far the underwater motif of the original Bioshocks feels worlds better than open sky of Infinite. There was implicit danger at all times in the ocean, along with a sort of fantastic plausibility; underwater buildings are more impractical/expensive versus impossible. Conversely, in Infinite, sometimes it is not especially noticeable that you are in the air at all. Just look at that screenshot up there again.

3) Console Port

The very first sign a game is a console port is when it is Checkpoint-based. My dismay at discovering there was no Quick-Save was both immediate and visceral. Technically Borderlands 2 is also Checkpoint-based, but the difference is that A) those Checkpoints are a known quantity (you know where they are), and B) you can still save at any time when you Exit the game.

Ugh, really?

Ugh, really?

I am going to trooper on, of course, and perhaps it is a little unfair of me to expect brilliance from Minute 1. But given that I broke my Day 1 Embargo for Bioshock Infinite, I am a little bit weary of Buyer’s Remorse. I mean, I passed on Far Cry 3 for $30 for god’s sake!

Here is to hoping that I get blown away in the game proper, instead of musing as to whether I might have more fun playing Recettear like I was two days ago.

Rethinking Diablo’s Day 1 Purchase

[Edit: Impressions below were highly colored by my incorrect assumptions about D3’s talent system. See comments or my follow-up post for more info.]

Looking back, I am not sure exactly what I expected when it came to the Diablo 3 beta.

All I know is that this wasn’t it.

Am I blinking through tears of nostalgia, or is shit really this blurry?

Let me give a quick preface here. Over the course of this weekend, I defeated the Skeleton King (e.g. beat the beta) as a Witch Doctor, Monk, Wizard (co-op), and Barbarian; I only got the Demon Hunter to level 7 before I could not stomach it (both the class and beta) any more. I have played both the original Diablo and Diablo 2 several times, racking up probably around 300+ hours in the latter. I have played and beaten Torchlight, even though I hated its loot system with a passion. Basically, I enjoy hack-n-slash action RPGs as much as the next person.

I was completely underwhelmed by the Diablo 3 beta.

It is difficult for me to enunciate precisely why. Was I expecting too much? Do rose-colored glasses only work in one direction? Have I “grown out” of this particular sub-genre? It is tough to say. Although these specific issues did jump out at me in the ~10 hours of beta gameplay:

Issue 1: Pointless Weapons

After you hit level 2, the type of weapon you choose to equip is 100% irrelevant (with the very glaring exception of Demon Hunters). And I do not mean in a “daggers strike faster than swords but both amount to similar DPS” sort of way. I mean that in a “you will never attack with your weapon again” sort of way.

My Witch Doctor started with a dagger, got a mace, and then a bow, but my left-click was always a blow dart and my right-click an AoE snare. There is never even an option to attack with the pointy or blunt object you are going to be very visually carrying around for the next hundred hours. If the weapon has a higher DPS, you equip it, no questions asked.

You could replace your generic attack button in Diablo 2 with a spell, of course. The trivializing of weapons in Diablo 3 though, is a sign of a deeper, systemic design shift. It reduces the weapon slot to just another generic item slot – reduction to a “stat stick” – and homogenizes all weapon drops into simply “can equip” and “can’t equip” categories. Should I dual-wield or carry around a 2H sword? It is an utterly meaningless distinction in Diablo 3; if weapon speed does impact ability use in some way, perhaps making it hit faster, it does so in a completely oblique fashion.

For me, this also led to a visual dissonance that I was not quite able to shake. Seeing a Barbarian Cleave with a dagger simply looks dumb. Likewise for a monk running around with two glowing swords infused with holy power… that teleport to her back/hips each time an ability fires. And when I see a Wizard running around with a completely non-magical 2H broadsword simply because it somehow makes Magic Missile hit harder than a magic wand…

Oh. Carry on, then.

…nevermind, that looks pretty badass, actually.

Issue 2: “Talents”

I take back every nice thing I said about Diablo 3’s talent system.

In my defense, the last word I had heard was that unlocked abilities were going to go into a “pool,” from which you could select any combination to fit in your available slots. That sounded amazing, nuanced, hitting all the right customization buttons without falling into any design traps. What we got instead is the goddamn Fischer-Price of talent systems, which somehow manages to suck all the fun out of selecting abilities and laughs, laughs, at those wanting to plan ahead.

Essentially, you have six buttons: 1-4 and left/right-click. Your left-click is always going to be one of a handful of abilities. Now, there is “customization” in selecting Runes, which are like the sprinkles that go on your vanilla ice cream cone: they either straight-up buff the given ability or change its nature in subtle or overt ways. But as I was unlocking these abilities and Runes, I always stopped, switched to the new skill for a few mobs, and made a determination of which one I liked better. And then I ceased ever caring about the choice.

To be clear, I don’t like talent trees either. Maybe if I had access to more abilities and Runes the choices would feel more meaningful. Maybe if I encountered more varied enemies/encounters it would cause me to rethink my ability load-outs. But then again… this is a Diablo game. The life expectancy of any individual mob is 0.2 seconds, so in a very real way which ability you are spam-clicking is completely irrelevant.

I dunno, it simply feels weird to look at a class like the Witch Doctor and think, “I’m never going to use Corpse Spiders as my left-click ability,” and then realize six ability unlocks are totally useless for you. I am (probably) always going to pick Zombie Dogs as my Defensive Ability, which similarly collapses 15 squares on that “600+ points of customization!” matrix.

Issue 3: “Baby WoW”

As I was playing co-op with an ex-WoW friend, he uttered “baby WoW” as the description of what these sort of games made him feel like he was playing. And you know what? I’m starting to feel the same. That is kind of the whole schtick of hack-n-slash, of course, the mowing down of corridors of mobs while you mop up the loot debris field in the wake of your passing. It is also tough to criticize spam-clicking in a world of rote ability rotations and the common “strategy” you develop for the execution of the average MMO mob.

At the same time, while I was going through Diablo 3 I could not help but feel somewhat patronized. This Skinner Box lever is completely unadorned. Of course, if you prefer yours fast and loose, then get ready to go to town; I may just turn in for the night instead, if its all the same to you.

Ultimately though, I did have some level of fun with the beta. Co-op was pretty slick with there being zero interruption when people slide in and slide out. Classes like the Monk and Wizard were genuinely fun to play. While I thought the graphics were completely underwhelming (to the point of being ass-ugly) in the first zone, the actual dungeon looked remarkably better. The physics in the game were amusing enough to keep the illusion of dynamic battles for the most part.

Bust out those 3D glasses.

The answer to the $64,000 $60 question though – is Diablo 3 still a Day 1 purchase? – is a lot more fuzzy than it was before this weekend. If I did not personally know a few people who are still getting this Day 1, people I would like to play co-op with eventually, I’d be inclined to wait a few months for the first price drop. I suppose I still have three weeks or so to mull it over.

Chances are I’m going to need all three of those weeks to decide.