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First Impression: Firefall (Beta)

Downloaded the Firefall open beta client yesterday because, you know, Press™.

For those not keeping track at home, Firefall is… well, hell if I actually know. Without looking it up, I’m assuming it’s a F2P MMO set in an open-world, over-the-shoulder Borderlands 2 with bugs taking the place of bandits. After looking it up, it seems the devs want to emphasize the fact that it is a skill-based action shooter with sandbox MMO elements. Apparently the world is a not level-restricted, but the highest-ranked “dungeons” will need full groups with crafted gear. Which sounds like roundabout levels to me, but let’s play along.

One of my biggest fears with new MMOs – or any game which expects me to be playing for 50+ hours – is losing on the character select screen. How am I supposed to know which class will be the most fun months from now? And even if I luck into the best class for me, how will I know it won’t radically change (or get nerfed) years later? So, right away, Firefall got some major brownie points with me once I understood that a “class” means a Battleframe, which you can swap out at pretty much any time. Need a healer? Jump into your healer suit and go play.

In the future, even clothes are rationed.

In a twist, the Assault and Engineer classes have less armor than the healer and rogue.

Loincloth starting armor tropes aside, I think the whole Battleframe direction is pretty clever. Not only are you allowing people to play whatever role is necessary at the time, having independent frames means a player has to “level-up” multiple times while still allowing for quick catch-up. In other words, it’s horizontal progression. PlanetSide 2 has this same sort of thing, where you might have to purchase various levels of Flak Armor for each class (which is expensive with Certs), or you can just focus on playing Light Assault or Medic and save your currency.

In any case, from the extremely limited amount of time I spent playing, things seem fun enough. They certainly looked good, at any rate.

Borderlands 2 with an actual color palate.

Borderlands 2 with an actual color palate.

Some people might not like the sort of cel-shaded motif here, but this sort of thing has never bothered me. If the game runs better and has more options for crazy effects, then I will “sacrifice” ultra-realistic graphics any day. Plus: everyone has jetpacks, right from the start.

I can’t give much more of an impression beyond the above, as I was unable to progress past the second “quest.” The first quest was to follow a waypoint, and the second was to kill some bugs and then return to purchase your sidearm from a vendor. Unfortunately, either I am completely oblivious (possible) or the the game was bugging out for me (likely) seeing as how no menu would appear after interacting with said vendor:

How about you give me a gun and I don't shoot your face off?

How about you give me a gun and I don’t shoot your face off?

Since the mouse controls your aim, I know that I successfully clicked ‘E’ on the vendor because the crosshair disappeared and an actual mouse pointer appeared. But no menu. I tried highlighting the guns in the background, clicking on every on-screen icon-looking thing, reloading the client, and finally restarting my computer. Open beta is open beta, but I was left feeling pretty disappointed all the same. Hell, I couldn’t even submit a ticket because that interface wasn’t showing up either. I could probably submit a bug report on the forums… or I could go play some other game that works instead.

While I was clicking around, I did notice something particularly interesting:

Customizable interface right out of the box?!

Customizable interface right out of the box?!

That’s right, you can move shit around your screen and I think resize elements right from the start. It might seem like a small thing, and it arguably is small, but it begs the question of why some MMOs *cough* require you to download 432 mods to do the same sort of things. Artistic restrictions? General laziness? More of this sort of thing, please.

I might check back in on Firefall later to see if the problem resolves itself, or I might simply wait until release. Until then, feel free to try it out yourself.

Worst of All Worlds

A few days ago Tobold made what seemed to be a reasonable argument that F2P games are just like cell phone plans – some plans work better than others depending on how much you use the phone. That seems fine, until you realize that phone carriers typically give you a choice between subscriptions and buying minutes, even for the same phone model. But more than that, what I want to talk about is how/why I feel that F2P is always bad for me as a player.

I’m one of those people that derive pleasure from “optimizing the fun out of games.” Of course, I don’t actually see it as fun reduction at all; if anything, I get the most entertainment possible when I can lever the whole of my mind in opposition to the game designer. It is not that I want to discover the ultimate ability/gear combo to make the game trivial (most games have cheat codes, Save file hacks, etc), it is that I want the game to be difficult or deep enough to drive me to discover it using the tools the designer gave me. The optimization part is simply the nominal destination of a thoroughly engaging and fun journey getting there.

This brings me (back) to the topic of F2P. One of the common defenses of F2P is that it evens the playing field between the time-rich and the people with limited time. Frankly, I feel that is bullshit right off the bat. One of the hallmarks of a fair game is everyone playing by consistent rules – if I have to kill 1000 boars, everyone has to kill 1000 boars. If killing that many boars takes 15 hours, then yes, someone who can spent 15 hours a day playing the game will have an “advantage” over someone who can only play two hours.¹ Then again, a particularly skillful player might be able to figure out how to kill the required number of boars in only 10 hours, perhaps by optimizing his/her equipment, farming strategy, and/or ability rotation. The “time-rich” player might still have the “advantage,” but their brute-force approach is inefficient.

The typical F2P experience is thus the worst of all possible worlds for players like myself. I am both time and money “rich” (i.e. I have disposable income), which already presents uncomfortable gaming decisions on a daily basis. If you have no money or no time, the solution to any F2P problem is pretty obvious: grind it out or pay to skip the grind. Conversely, those of us who can do both are stuck rationalizing every possible decision all the time. “Do I grind for another 2 hours, or do I just spend the $5?” Maybe the default should be pay-to-skip in that scenario, but what about all the other games you could be purchasing with that same $5? Is “saving” two hours in one game worth purchasing a different game that could last you 20 hours by itself?

The real kicker though is the fact that F2P more or less invalidates any real sense of optimization. All of us already know that the most efficient move in a F2P game is to load up on XP potions, convert cash into in-game currency to clean out the AH, and open lockboxes all day until we have everything of any value. There is no possible way to beat that. “Just figure out the most efficient path without spending money.” Playing with an artificial handicap is simply not as engaging to me. You can technically increase the difficulty of a FPS by decreasing your mouse sensitivity, but that will never feel as satisfying as having more intelligent opponents.

Where I agree with Tobold is that F2P is here to stay. Outside of the CoDs and Battlefields and Counter-Strikes of the world, I’m not sure many multiplayer games could exist on their own in sustainable numbers. Astute readers will also know that I have been playing PlanetSide 2 for 230+ hours now and that’s a F2P game. Then again, I also spent over $100 in Ps2 thus far, including being “subscribed” for the last six consecutive months (efficiency, yo). Not to mention how I bought helmets and camo for my characters almost entirely because of the extremely slight advantage that they bring (arguably P2W).

I am not against F2P games on principal, it’s just that they quite literally cannot be as fun to me as they could be. I play these games to submerge myself in their fiction. Being constantly reminded that for the low, low price of $4.99 I could have X, Y, and Z not only breaks the immersion and puts a price tag on my hitherto priceless time, it also serves as a reminder that the solution to every problem is just a credit card away.

¹ Advantage is in scare-quotes because I don’t recognize an advantage as being “playing the same game more.”

The 4th Faction

One of the perennial hot topics on the PlanetSide 2 Reddit forums are concerns over the “4th Faction” and how to handle the issues that arise from it. So, let’s go ahead and talk about this issue.

Broadly defined, players of the 4th Faction in PlanetSide 2 are the people who have no particular loyalty to any one of the game’s three factions, and instead choose whichever side has the highest chance of winning. Some definitions of the 4th Faction term specifically reference the players who switch to an alt character in the final moments of an Alert, in order to get a higher Cert award. Other definitions include “spy” characters who will switch factions mid-battle to sabotage the efforts of their opponents via friendly fire. Still other definitions are so broad to encompass anyone who has an alt of another faction, even if that alt is on another server entirely.

So, already you can see that there is a serious problem with defining what a 4th Factioneer consists of, let alone how to tackle the issue (assuming one exists). And yet, by far, the most popular response is somewhat rudimentary: nuke it from orbit logging onto one Faction automatically locks your other Faction characters for 12 (or more) hours.

Apparently this was how the situation was handled in the original PlanetSide, and some feel it would work in this game too. Others are a bit more charitable and suggest the faction-lock should only trigger if you leave the warp gate. After all, SOE gives free daily Certs to each character you log onto, so a log-on trigger would prevent you from claiming these Certs. Others think a 3 minute timer would be sufficient. Still others believe you shouldn’t be able to roll different-faction alts altogether, or at least on the same server. Nevermind if SOE merged your server, or you are Australian and only have a single server on the correct side of the Pacific Ocean.

If I have not been overt enough with my tone, allow me to be explicit: the 4th Faction is a problem that cannot be solved. It can be mitigated somewhat with better incentives, but all of the proposals I have seen (including faction-locking) thus far have been terrible design.

Let us all face reality here: nobody likes to lose. But the more salient point is that you cannot force someone to stick around to lose. At any moment a player can simply log off, hit Alt-F4, or unplug his/her computer from the wall. While games like EVE/Darfall can have your character remain attackable for X amount of time even after a ragequit, the point is that that player has already given up. Although I have not played League of Legends, I have heard about their anti-quitting penalties. Which, again, doesn’t really solve the problem of “motivating” a player to not have (mentally) conceded an obvious loss.

Basically all games.

#FundamentalTruth

Many of the 4th Faction sob stories revolve around the curious population effect once an Alert starts winding down. Teams will be an even 33%/33%/33% for the first 1.5 hours, but in the final act the numbers start reading 50%/30%/20% or similar. “Those traitors are switching!” the forum warriors cry. Except… that’s not how it works. Each faction has a population cap per continent. You cannot go from, say, a 333 person split to 500/300/200, because 333 is the limit for your faction. While it is certainly possible for someone to switch to their winning-faction alt in the final moments, it’s only possible because there were empty seats.

And even if it were impossible to switch (via faction-locking), what difference does it make? The entire premise of the argument is that the person in question is on the losing side. The point at which they decided to switch characters is the point at which they gave up. They still would have given up if they could not switch. Switching characters at that point is indistinguishable from them simply logging off altogether or simply being AFK at the Warp Gate.

The fantasy that being “forced” to stay on your character will create the opportunity for a come-from-behind victory is exactly that: a fantasy. It might happen when the stars align and the angels sing, but it will never be due to random players banding together, but rather the concerted effort of Outfits – players who would not be switching to their alts anyway.

What are some solutions? Like I said before, we cannot “solve” the issue, but we can mitigate it. Here is an easy one: stop making Alerts grant 30, 40, 50 Certs for simply being online at the 00:01 second mark. Sometimes I will be online at 11pm and a 2-hour Alert will pop up, which means I can only really play part of it. While the Alert will grant a blanket 20% XP increase for everyone for the duration, why is it that I can play 99% of it and then lose the bonus Certs by having to go to sleep? The current design is dumb at both ends of the spectrum, and actually encourages people to switch characters (since they get the full reward whether they played 2 hours or 2 seconds).

Perhaps it would be too resource-intensive to track individual participation in an Alert. In which case, here is another solution: a steady trickle of rewards. Instead of 20% bonus XP throughout and 10,000 XP at the very end, how about 20% bonus XP and +50 XP every 5 minutes you are logged on? Or, hell, to reward the more “loyal” players, make the reward ramp up the longer you stay logged onto that character during the Alert. Something like +25 XP every 5 minutes, which doubles every half hour – if you stay for the entire Alert, towards the end you would be getting +200 XP every 5 minutes plus whatever you earn on the field. Change the final reward to something like 50% more XP/Resource generation for the next X hours, to incentivize winning (if necessary).

Will this solve server/faction imbalances? Sadly, no. If you are not VS on Matterson, you are probably getting farmed; other servers have similar scenarios with different faction names. You cannot force someone to pick the losing team. Not only that, but anyone who complains about the imbalance already implicitly gives voice to desire that sustains it. “It sucks being TR on Matterson.” Yes, I’m sure it does. Just like it sucks being outnumbered anywhere else. Stick with the miserable situation long enough, and it would be perfectly rational to quit or transfer… which is exactly what 4th Factioneers (proactively) do.

Am I 4th Factioning? By some definitions, yes. I created a character of each faction, on three different servers that I researched ahead of time to be the home of large Outfits. After server merges, my NC alt was moved to Matterson (home of my VS main). I basically stick with VS until I get the desire to use the Phoenix (camera-guided rocket launcher) or the desire to ruin people’s days with the Striker (OP and annoying lock-on rocket launcher). Indeed, for the longest time I started to think I would just give up on VS altogether, considering that the Lasher/Lancer was not nearly fun enough to justify the faction. Then, well, the ZOE happened. ¹

But here’s the thing. I find it completely ridiculous to buy into the whole “faction pride” angle when you are presented with fairly unique, faction-specific experiences. You are, in a sense, voluntarily avoiding the other two-thirds of the game. Granted, the empire-specifics weapons other than the rocket launchers are really just minor variations, so maybe not an entire two-thirds. My point still stands: the loyalty is largely arbitrary self-flagellation.

While even-fights and faction parity is a perfectly understandable, legitimate desire, so is the desire to not experience demoralizing losses or be stuck on dead-end servers/factions. And even in a perfectly balanced scenario, you are still going to lose two out of three games. Ergo, the best thing we can do is give consolation prizes to the losing side and hope there are a perfectly symmetrical amount of stubborn underdog-fans for, well, ever.

¹ And it’s getting nerfed, of course.

Virtual Realms: Height of Cynicism

Alright, maybe Virtual Realms were the unannounced feature of 5.4. Or the tutorial zone, aka Proving Grounds. But, no, probably Virtual Realms:

New Feature: Virtual Realms

  • Virtual Realms are sets of realms that are fused together, and will behave exactly as if they were one cohesive realm. Players on the same Virtual Realm will be able to join guilds, access a single Auction House, join arena teams and raids, as well run dungeons or group up to complete quests.
  • Players belonging to the same Virtual Realm will have a (#) symbol next to their name.

I guess they finally solved that otherwise insurmountable naming problem, amirite?

Anyway, there are two (other) reasons this announcement is the height of cynicism:

1) Server Merges by any other name.

I get it, you get it, we all get it. Actually saying “server merges” is a sign of the apocalypse and bad PR besides. Grouping several low-pop servers together “virtually” is putting lipstick on the pig of 1.3+ million subscriber losses in the last quarter. At some point though, it’s just sad. You aren’t fooling anyone with that ridiculous comb-over. Just shave your head and get it over with.

2) Aren’t you glad you just spent $12.50+ server transferring?

I read the comments on my earlier post, regarding how things “usually go on sale before they are obsoleted.” For as jaded and dour as I can be under normal circumstances, I generally have some minimum level of faith in humanity. Obvious displays of naked greed are actions that can still genuinely surprise me, even if I distrust the “altruism” of corporations as a rule.

But, Jesus Christ, did Blizzard just take a huge shit on their playerbase.

There was a running joke in the PlanetSide 2 community regarding something similar: Item of the Day. Usually, the deals are 50% off the Station Cash (i.e. RMT) price of some garbage item or another, including items that are way cheaper to purchase with Certs. Every now and then though, some recently-released gun or something will pop up, prompting a lot of sales. People always joked that whenever something good snuck its way into the rotation, that meant it was getting nerfed by next week. And the shitty thing? It usually did.

The assumption got so pervasive and accurate that Higby, one of the PlanetSide 2 devs, actually stepped in and rolled back a planned nerf to one of the vehicle weapons that had just went on sale. He assured the community that these sales are planned out 30 days in advance, that the sale/nerf cycle was just coincidence, but who can you really believe when it comes to capitalistic incentives?

That question is not so rhetorical anymore. It was not an accident that Blizzard put server transfers on sale for the first time in their 8+ year history a mere week before announcing (free) server merges. Maybe they see some distinction insofar as players can choose where they go versus leaving it up to random chance. It’s still absolute bullshit though, because how many people would have bought a server transfer if the sale was this week, or next week? QED.

I mean, this is a new low that even EA hasn’t achieved, not for lack of trying.

First Impressions: Dust 514

After talking about this F2P title on and off for the most of last year, I decided it was about time to put my conjecture where my mouth is. Err… hands? You know what I mean.

After quite literally dusting off my PlayStation 3, I started the process of downloading the 1.3gb game. To kill some time, I started playing Journey while downloading Dust 514 in the background. I didn’t make it more than five minutes before stopping Journey and doing some research as to how I could take screenshots on the PS3 because damn. An hour later, I stopped looking at $150 video capture cards and finished installing Dust 514. Ten minutes later, I begin updating the game. Forty-five minutes later, Dust 514 finishes downloading and installing a patch larger (!?) than the entire original download.

Now, if it has not already been clear from historical record, let it be noted that I am not much of a console gamer. This was not always the case. In fact, all the way up until the end of the PS2 era, I was a console purist. With the notable exception of Balder’s Gate and the original Deus Ex, I felt like PC RPGs were cheap imitations of the holy JRPG (i.e. Squaresoft), which could do no wrong. In my prior life as a freelance RPG reviewer, I have 60+ “published” RPG reviews attesting to that fact; I even gave Planescape: Torment a below-average score because the combat system was bad.

I’m bringing this up to illustrate the fact that this entire console generation has left me behind until now. Or, rather, I left it behind. Although I was in college during the Halo heyday and thus have experience playing its first three iterations many times in the fraternity house, I never personally owned an XBox. Ergo, my skill at thumbstick shooters is abysmal. Give me a mouse and keyboard and I will shoot your aim-assisted face off any day. Ask my thumbs to do more than spam the Spacebar though, and I’ll have some rehabilitation issues.

Enough preface, let’s dive in.

First Minutes

God damn this game is ugly. This seriously looks like I’m watching a 480p Youtube video of someone playing Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Yes, the Nintendo 64 version. Don’t get me wrong, it looks better than Darkfall, but it also looks like it was drawn entirely in watercolors on a soggy canvas. Or I’m looking at it through goggles filled with river water. My first red flag should have been the 1.3gb download, I suppose, although Skyrim was Skyrim with just 5.8gb. Then again, that was on the PC…

I made Azuriel Inanage a Gallente something something race, a decision based entirely on the look of the face mask. In my defense, the entire race decision seemed somewhat pointless considering everyone is in armor all the time, mercenaries can fight for any race, and you can train every race’s gear. I sat through several tutorial screens which showed me around the basic lobby interface, with its amusing “Would you like to learn more?” Starship Trooper prompts. They start out giving you 500,000 Skill Points and 250,000 ISK and then… basically drops you off at the pool.

Now, I still struggle with the judgment as to whether a game developer deserves a pass for this sort of design. Is it the noble “sink or swim” attitude, or is it “crunch time, we’ll fix it in a patch later” lazyness? I’m personally willing to muddle my way through a considerable amount of bullshit in search for that one kernel of fun, but that’s mainly because I’m a masochist at a minimum it becomes easy blog content. And I am not even really saying that Dust 514’s Skill/etc system is hard. It’s just… opaque. 100% function, 0% form.

You basically cannot spend Skill Points until you pay ISK for a Skill book that unlocks that specific Skill. So to start, I needed to purchase Skill X for Y ISK and then spend Z SP to unlock Rank 1. Some of the skills are “empty,” in that their sole function seems to be to sink ISK/SP by forcing you to rank up just for the privilege to access other skills. Others are more functional, like increasing shields by 2% per rank. The system seems to promote unlocking as many Rank 1-2 skills as possible (these ranks only cost 18k-36k SP), but you are gated pretty hard by ISK, at least at first.

So let’s go get some ISK.

It is worth noting, before I get into the outcome of my first few matches, how this game works. You start out with a few different loadouts with basic gear that you can always equip no matter what. Every other thing in the game, from weapons to side-arms to grenades to the very dropsuit you wear is a consumable resource. Meaning, each time you die and respawn, you lose everything you were wearing. Did you just buy some uber-gun but get ambushed at the spawn point? It’s gone now.

I suppose this is designed to evoke a feeling of risk and gravity as a counter-point to the more standard suicidal FPS inclinations. I wouldn’t say that I am completely risk-adverse per se, but I absolutely hate the feeling that I would have been better off not playing at all. Losing WoW Arena games back when hitting 1800 represented a huge leap in combat effectiveness, for example, felt brutal; there was no worse feeling than starting at 1780 Rating and then losing six games in a row. Dust 514 evokes that same feeling, as not only can you lose a bunch of purchased gear right away, but that gear also represents ISK you could have spent buying Skill books instead.

As it turns out though, those ISK concerns may be moot.

My first match was pretty bad, entirely due to my aiming like… well, like I was holding a gun using just my thumbs. It was a “Skirmish” map, which breaks down as a pretty standard cap and control game. At the end of the match, it turns out I received ~150,000 ISK for losing. Based on my experience thus far, the payout seems to be mainly based on time spent; the difference between a win and a loss seems to be around 50k ISK. Also, you can end up receiving “salvage” in the form of guns/equipment. I am still technically in the “battle academy,” aka the kiddie pool, but I would be surprised if you end up earning less out in the game proper.

Given how much ISK you get either way, any consumable equipment concerns are severely diminished. Even a top-tier assault rifle only costs ~11,000 ISK. There was not a full match in which I died more than 8 times, so I would still have turned a profit despite losing all those guns. Plus, presumably a better weapon would mean dying less in the first place. The value of a whole suit loadout is probably more substantial, but quibbling over the 700 ISK mid-tier guns suddenly seems silly. If this is the paradigm though, why bother with all the ISK nonsense to begin with?

Ah, right. Free-to-play.

Instead of purchasing items individually, you can buy blueprints which give you an infinite supply of them. These blueprints, assuming they don’t drop as salvage, can only be bought via Aurum, the RMT currency. Now, Dust 514 is probably cheaper in the scheme of things compared to, I don’t know, Planetside 2. But in this particular case, the game mechanics themselves feel a bit more insidious. Granted, it could just be my bias showing through, especially given how Dust 514 lets you preview the weapons or effectively “buy them” for significantly less than the Planetside 2 equivalent.

Honestly, I just don’t like consumable anything, even if I have more than I would ever need. I’m the guy still hesitating to use the stockpile of Elixirs while fighting the final boss. It makes no rational sense, but there it is. Ergo, I’m leery of CCP having my number, so to speak, when it comes to these blueprints. I’m not actually going to buy any, but I will feel bad all the same.

Anyway, those are my Day 1 impressions of Dust 514. Like always, I will stick with the game for a bit longer just to ensure that I give it as fair a time as is possible under the circumstances.

PlanetSide 2 – Six Months Later

So, it has been almost 6 months since I started playing PlanetSide 2. Am I still having fun?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: …yes.

Everything a sniper likes to see.

Everything a sniper likes to see.

Aside from a brief 1-2 week experiment with Outfits (aka guilds), I continue to have fun despite playing solo. While many of the problems I outlined in my prior article are true regarding organized PvP, they are perhaps a tiny bit less true now. Anti-Aircraft units have not been nerfed, but I am a bit more cognizant of of where they might be and thus avoid them. Or perhaps, given the server mergers, there may simply less people playing.

The biggest “problem” I consistently have with PlanetSide 2 are its break points.

Have you ever sat down at an MMO (or any game) and find yourself easily able to play for 2, 3, 4 hours at a time? That sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident; it’s part of a game’s intentional design. In PlanetSide, I occasionally sit down prepared for a long night of gaming… and then log off after 30 minutes. Finding a compelling fight isn’t necessarily the problem: the problem is finding the next one.

Momentum can stall. Spawning at a Sunderer and throwing yourself into the meat-grinder attack of a base feels awesome. And then you win. Err… what now? Sometimes the attacking force splits up. Sometimes you stay together as a cohesive unit, only to find that the next base you find is empty. It can take 8+ minutes to cap even an empty base. That is eight literal you-only-have-41 million minutes of your life, staring at the wall.

Thankfully, this shit should be changing soon.

Thankfully, this shit should be changing soon.

Part of why I stick with this game though is because of how much communication and iteration there is between the devs and the community. There are major game updates roughly every two weeks. The community asked for test servers so broken mechanics and (new) bugs stop appearing, and now we have a Public Test Server. The devs are pretty active on the Reddit forums, soliciting suggestions and advice.

I don’t think the designers have all the right answers – the devs clearly have some issues coming up with interesting Vanu mechanics, not unlike the issues Blizzard has with the paladin kit – but they are visibly trying. I am excited in particular regarding the upcoming lattice system. Assuming everything works, this could go a long way in fixing the problems with the gaps in engagement I experience after capping a base. And changes to the capping of a base – where destroying the Spawn Control Unit allows an attacking team to actually move on – will lessen the dead time after overwhelming a position.

So… good news all around.

Still such a thrill rushing an enemy base as a spontaneous group.

Still such a thrill rushing an enemy base as a spontaneous group.

If you are curious about the personal effects of Cert-Gate a month later, let me assure you that I don’t feel like it has changed all that much about the way I play. Yes, I have most every upgrade. Yes, I care a bit less about capping empty bases, given that I don’t feel like the 2-5 bonus Certs are worth 2-5 minutes of my time. On the other hand, I naturally have a hard time committing all of some limited resource to something. For example, I have ~2800 Certs left out of my stockpile. There are two guns I could buy with those Certs… but I won’t. Because I know that there will be new shiny things coming out in a few weeks, and I like the option to purchase those instead. But I might not buy those, and instead hold out for the new gun releases after the next batch. And so it is almost as if my 2800 Certs don’t even exist. It’s a bit irrational, but that’s how I roll.

So, yeah, I’m still having fun. PlanetSide 2 isn’t my main game (largely because it can’t be, given the breaks), but it is still a game I constantly think about and can’t wait to play for a bit when I get home. And the best thing? I don’t have to make apologies to anyone for those days when I just don’t log in.

Who is enjoying the MMO single life? This guy.

Cert-Gate

SOE dropped the bomb on Planetside 2 a few hours ago. In the latest 38mb patch, these seemingly innocuous patch notes appeared:

  • A certification grant has been done for players who purchased duplicate weapons on multiple characters.
  • Please note that if this causes a player’s certifications to go over 10,000 they will not accumulate any more certification points until some have been spent to bring it below the cap.

When Ps2 first launched, all the weapon unlocks were on a per-character basis. Fairly recently, SOE decided that one of the perks of purchasing faction-agnostic weapons with Station Cash was that it would unlock the weapon on all of your characters. Usually, the choice is 700 SC (~$7) or 1000 Certs for a weapon, with 1000 Certs representing a pretty significant investment both in time (I accumulated around 9,000 Certs after 150+ hours) and opportunity cost (spending Certs on class upgrades, like more fuel for your jetpack). Still, using Certs to unlock weapons means you can play for free; so being able to unlock one weapon and use it on every faction makes the Station Cash option that much more competitive. “But wait,” players reasonably asked, “what about all that Station Cash I spent on weapons I now have a useless duplicate of?”

Well, today we have SOE’s response: Certification reimbursement. But something has gone horribly, horribly wrong:

Spot the differences.

Spot the differences.

Yes, you are seeing that correctly. SOE has reimbursed me twenty-six thousand (26,000) Certs.

Holy mother of god.

Holy mother of god.

The official version of things is exactly what I wrote above: SOE decided to reimburse the people who bought two of the same gun on two same-faction characters at a 1 SC for 2 Cert ratio. Did I spend $130 on, frankly, poorly-planned purchases on redundant toons? Of course not. As it turns out, the database query also captured all transactions in which you bought an item that was later a part of a bundle that you purchased anyway. For example, I bought the rocket pods for the jet only to find out they were included in the “Vehicle Starter Bundle” along with a lot of other juicy weapons; while I did not get a discount for already owning the rocket pods, the rest of the bundle was still a good enough deal to purchase.

The result is 26,000 Certs. On each of my three toons. And SOE has said they aren’t going to roll them back.

This is a literal case of the common WoW “log on, collect epix” hyperbole. The only thing I cannot buy with these Certs are helmets, camo, and other such visual extras. Oh, and XP boosts, but I don’t think I will ever be interested in such things again.

So I bought things. Lots of things. And upgraded everything else. A new pump shotgun came out today, this time with 11 pellets to the standard 10 at the expense of a slower rate of fire. Just last week I bought each faction’s pump shotgun for SC as they were 50% off. But who cares? I need to chew through these Certs because there is actually a 10,000 Cert cap beyond which you can’t earn any more.

Pretty much everything useful.

Pretty much everything useful.

I stopped spending Certs after going down to around 4,700 as I found myself starting to purchase ridiculous shit. Did you know the Medic can carry around two sticks of C4? I would never have unlocked such nonsense for 700 total Certs, but now I have it. Forever. I can also give out Empire-wide orders and listen in on Commander chat now. Just ’cause. I was actually starting to worry about squandering my giant pile of unearned Certs – it is small enough to only purchase four new weapons – but it occurred to me that I still have a bit over 50% of the total amount of Certs I have ever had.

Let that last sentence wash over you for a second.

The big question mark, at least on a personal level, is where things go from here. After the 1.5 hour spending spree, I still participated in one of the newfangled Alerts. Let me tell you, it was great fun zipping around in a kitted-out Scythe with a 5-minute timer instead of a 9-minute one. Prior to today, I had been conflicted as to whether my next big purchase was going to unlock a second stick of C4 for the Light Assault (finally allowing me to potentially take out a Sunderer solo) or if I was going to unlock Rank 3 of my Scythe’s hover frame. I had previously waffled so much over the decision that I ended up hitting 1200 Certs a few days ago and purchased a submachine gun for my Infiltrator instead, practically unlocking a brand new play-style for the class.

But… now? Will I feel the same way about Planetside 2 without the progression angle? After all, I lost complete interest in WoW PvP once I had full Honor gear last time around. For now, I think SOE is safe; the core mechanics of shooting people in a wide-open world is great fun.

It is an open question though, how SOE will weather the building rage on the forums and Reddit. Not everyone got 26,000 Certs, and I can imagine what all those Battle Rank 90s are feeling to have my BR 38 ass flying/driving/shooting circles around their more generalist loadouts.

Hyperinflation has come to Auraxis in a major way, and the future is looking quite a bit grimmer than it was just yesterday.

Lanced Boil

Faction-specific rocket launchers in PlanetSide 2 were released last Friday. As is often the case, what is complained about most on paper is the opposite of what occurred.

The launchers are the Striker, the Phoenix, and the Lancer. The Striker is sort of like a heat-seeking rocket-launching minigun. Well… sorta. Essentially, you lock onto a ground or air target, and then launch up to your full clip of five heat-seeking rockets. There was already a rocket-launcher that did exactly this minus the five rockets (the Annihilator), but this one does happen to deal more damage overall. The downside, as it is with the Annihilator, is that there is no dumb-fire mode, i.e. you can’t just shoot the rockets without locking on. Technically one flare from a jet or IR smoke from a tank will ruin all 5 of the shots, but considering most (good) pilots wait until they hear the rocket tone before dropping a flare, it might technically save you some ammo if you wait a second before releasing rockets 2-5.

The Phoenix is a camera-guided rocket launcher that was proclaimed the weakest on paper and yet is, unsurprisingly, is the most powerful. While the turning radius on the rocket is not especially good for the first 50m+ (to prevent steering rockets indoors), you can absolutely fire from behind a rock, fly through some trees, and then hit the back of a tank that was itself hiding behind another rock. Or, as this video amply demonstrates, simply steer it into any infantry, killing them instantly. Or fire it just to scout out the terrain. It even technically has a dumb-fire mode insofar as you can just fire it at close-range without needing to lock onto anything, or simply exit the missile “vehicle” and let it sail into a lined-up shot.

The last, most fearsome-on-paper launcher was the Lancer. In essence, the Lancer is a plasma railgun. Line up a target, hold down the fire button until it charges up to three levels, and fire… for slightly less damage than the default rocket launcher. And then leave a very pretty, very obvious 4-second contrail leading exactly to your precise location. The Lancer is so powerful, in fact, that it is… receiving buffs!

The Lancer is Super Effective... at putting on light shows.

The Lancer is Super Effective… at putting on light shows.

On the SOE forums and Reddit, the thought was that a group of 6+ Heavy Assault classes equipped with Lancers would be able to one-shot any vehicle within a 500m range “without warning.” What never really made any sense about this argument was A) how it was unfair to die in a 1v6 scenario, B) how much warning a vehicle driver really has against a salvo of 6 normal rockets, C) how this is any different than 6 Engineers dropping 12 anti-tank mines all over the place, and D) what are the other 5 tanks doing? All of these questions were in addition to awfulness of the Lancer as released. Far from hit-scan accuracy, the Lancer was released with a random cone of fire with three projectiles, with any missing the target resulting in less damage (e.g. it wasn’t a graphical glitch).

It bears mentioning, in passing, that the Lancer does significantly reduced damage to player targets. There is also a dumb-fire mode of sorts, in firing off only a level-1 charge. If fired from the hip, this shot is about as inaccurate as a hip-fired sniper-rifle.

While it will be interesting to see if the Lancer is buffed into usefulness, at the moment (and likely even post-buff) the Lancer is not terribly useful for the solo player. Outside of alpha-strike coordination – something extremely difficult to pull off give that a max-charge shot is fired automatically/cannot be held – the average tank gets an extremely obvious warning in the form of ~20% damage and a convenient highlighted path by which to judge whether a nearby rock would provide sufficient cover. And this is besides the fact that the most common vehicle strategy, behind a rock peekaboo, defeats the “OP” Lancer just as hard (if not harder) than anything else.

Anything other than a camera-directed Phoenix, of course.

Sometimes the grass is actually greener on the other side. But I am far too deep in VS microtransactions to make a switch now. Sigh. The worst MAX, the worst launcher, the worst main tank, and the worst balancing mechanic (sacrificing bullet damage for bullet drop is irrelevant when combat occurs before bullets actually drop). The only actual advantage to VS are the Scythes, which would be a painful loss since NC has the worst possible jet.

I really do despise games with “unique” factions – more often than not, you just get punished for commitment.

Organized PvP

Everyone has heard the phrase “Less is More.” The converse is occasionally true as well.

A few weeks ago, several PlanetSide 2 servers were merged, and mine was amongst them. When it comes to player-generated content, you always need players to be in physical proximity for any of the magic to really occur. So, I should be all for this development, right?

Well…

In games like PlanetSide 2, organized PvP is too often boring PvP. When you look at this picture, what do you see?

Whatever is over there is screwed.

Whatever is over there is screwed.

If you said “a bunch of planes,” you would technically be correct. Each plane is a Galaxy, which is a 16-man troop transport. Dozens and dozens of fiercely-organized players could be spilling out of the sky, with no warning, deftly seizing territory almost behind enemy lines. Cool, right?

Not really. More likely, those dozens of troops will be landing on an empty base, sitting around shooting 1 bullet and reloading to give some free XP to the Engineers resupplying them ammo, until the base is capped and they move on to the next. Capturing anything less than a Bio Lab results in about the same XP as killing 3-5 people. And even if this Outfit lucks out and finds willing defenders, said defenders are likely to give up and respawn elsewhere than throw themselves beneath the tread of an organized zerg. Because… why would they?

When I log into PlanetSide 2, I do so out of a desire to shoot people. Fighting against an organized Outfit does not result in interesting gameplay for me, as I am necessarily foiled at every turn. Unorganized zerg clashes, on the other hand, are fun times – people flock from all around to any given Bio Lab fight – precisely because individual agency exists. It is your individual, focused skill against the seething mass of the average and distracted. Yes, the odds are low that you accomplish anything of consequence given any one of the dozens of enemies can undo your damage. But sometimes they don’t, because, you know, unorganized. And then you feel like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

Which brings me back to the Ps2 server merges. Simply put, since the change I have seen a large increase in organized Outfit activity. Which makes sense, of course, given that there are more people in a smaller space. The result is less interesting gameplay to me, however, as I either face an organized resistance or none at all – the unorganized defenders having been squashed or conscripted hours before. There simply isn’t room for a lone ESF pilot flying around, harassing the odd Sunderer. The landscape beneath my wings is either barren or blanketed with vicious Anti-Aircraft units, both scenarios a reaction to a prior sky full of organized terror.

One might imagine that the underlying design goal was for the two organized groups to meet upon the battlefield, fighting tooth and nail, performing novel tactics that can only emerge from such clashing of focused wills. One might also question what the designers were smoking to believe that such things ever occur naturally and spontaneously. Why struggle and possibly fail (!) when you can instead shepherd your Outfit into empty territory after territory, maximizing XP gains for all? Three kills give more XP than a base capture, but its doubtful everyone will have the opportunity to get three kills, assuming you even find that many defenders still sticking around when the dust of 17 tanks looms tall on the horizon.

No, PlanetSide 2’s organized warfare is the WoW random BG premade, seeking easy kills for the easy Honor. To get these Outfits to clash, SOE is going to have to fashion a similar solution: incentivize Outfit vs Outfit gameplay, ala Rated BGs or Arenas. Changing the hex system to a more linear one is no solution to anything. Scratch that, it’s a great boon to finding a fun, unorganized brawl. It is not, however, going to change how Outfits follow the natural inclination of organized warfare in the preference of soft targets to hard.

If anything, the meeting of strength to strength is the most unnatural result of all.

5.2: From Most Alt-Unfriendly to Best Alt Expansion Ever?

Patch 5.2 should be out today. It is always a bit overwhelming looking at the huge, collated MMO-Champion post, but one thing should not be missed: 5.2 changes Mists from the most alt-unfriendly expansion ever to perhaps the friendliest one yet. Here are some of the changes I had been keeping an eye on:

New ways of gaining Reputation

Daily quests are fine the first time around, but grinding them multiple times is simply cruel. Commendations came out in 5.1, but you still had to do the dailies, albeit half as many. Now, as long as you fully unlock the Farm, you can do two work orders a day for 400 reputation apiece. Additionally, the first heroic dungeon and first Scenario of the day gives you 750 and 325 rep respectively. On top of that, the 5-person rare spawns on the new island have a chance of dropping BoA tokens that can be consumed for 1000 reputation with a particular faction. I am unsure if the 1-2 man rare spawns drop smaller versions of the same token.

While it may be still worth doing the actual dailies to compliment the bonus reputation, the point is we now have a choice again.

Accelerated Catch-Up Gear Acquisition

I am not sure what the official percent increase is, but the drop rate for the 5.0 LFR bosses and Elder Charm rolls will be greatly increased. The prices of Valor items from the vendors have been decreased by 50% and 25% for the 5.0 and 5.1 items, respectively. Season 12 PvP gear is now on the Honor vendor, as usual, but now you can buy the ilevel 476 weapons for Honor. Additionally, the new Conquest weapons will not have a rating requirement. Blacksmiths can make BoE versions of the Burning Crusade Blacksmith weapons, at either 463 blues or 476 epics.

Tangentially, if you have a tanking spec, you might actually be able to farm more Honor by running heroic dungeons than doing random BGs. One of the changes in 5.2 is that you get 100 Justice Points for each heroic boss kill. That means for every 8 bosses you kill, you can turn in 750 of the 800 otherwise useless Justice Points into 500 Honor (or 375 JP –> 250 HP). Even if there is a more efficient way of farming Honor – and assuming you’re not killing more than 4 bosses every 30 minutes – the fact remains that you can gain that Honor while also gaining +725 reputation of your choice plus Valor points.

This is actually starting to feel a lot like Wrath again, when I would tank the daily heroic on 3-4 toons a day.

___________

On a complete different note, I spent nearly four hours yesterday attempting to get the last 24 Motes of Harmony necessary for my Scribe to craft one of the 476 BoA staves. The idea was to craft one of the staves, mail it to my main to upgrade twice, and then bank it for one of my other alts before the upgrade vendor is removed with the patch. I had (obviously) waffled quite a bit over whether this was worth my time, and just decided this weekend that it was. Unfortunately, between all the time spent leveling this weekend (my DK Scribe was level 85) and the mad dash last night, I damn near came away snuffing the small flame of my interest in WoW entirely out.

I ended up with 3.4 Spirits of Harmony, a gain of 8 Motes across levels 87-88.5. For a minute there, I honestly considering spending 4000 Honor at the vendor to get 10 Motes (400 H for a Mote is goddamn robbery), but I was hating life pretty hard at the end and I would still be short a few besides. I washed the taste out of my mouth with a little PlanetSide 2, but I am definitely not going to be doing something as crazy again. Those days are long over for me.