CoH/NBI: Screenshot Nostalgia Trip #5 – Scary Places

This one might also double up as a “The Scariest Place” themed post for Murf’s NBI Screenshot Challenge, except I have trouble deciding which one might be the scariest in terms of looks, nor were they exactly scary to the player most of the time either.

So I will leave it to Murf to decide which, if any, counts as part of his challenge, and continue on to the nostalgia. 🙂

coh_drvahz

In a world primarily composed of office and warehouse tilesets, Dr. Vahzilok’s set piece lair in the sewers was rather memorable. Dr. Vahz is also pretty spooky in his own right, teeny featureless face in a massively brutish body cobbled together from various bodies.

coh_cot

The Circle of Thorns are kinda magically demonically spooky… and then there were the endless Oranbega maps which nearly everyone dreaded, with its neverending corridors, connected by portals that would never let you through (your whole team would get through on the first or second try, but you’d just keep bumping and bumping into them and getting teleported back a dozen times), plus more portals that you had to close at the end (all twelve or thirteen of them, behind the narrowest tunnels and corner curves one can never spot) with the constantly respawning demons… which then got nerfed into not giving ANY xp after some patch or another…

coh_hole

Then there’s falling….

seemingly forever…

…down something that looked like the petrified gullet of a ginormous beast.

(This might have been the Eden trial, but I’m not 100% sure anymore.)

coh_maw

A set piece mission map villain-side, but I can’t remember what it was about either. I just remember the very ominous looking cavern at the end, shaped like a big ol’ toothy maw.

coh_arachnos

Arachnos-controlled areas were ominous, in a shadowy kind of way.

coh_worldburn

A hero-side map (Croatoa, I think) that happened to have a nice set piece of it being aflame, with the conceit of this screenshot implying that my fire/fire dominator and his imps were the scary badasses to blame.

coh_notskyrim

I believe this was one of the “more recent” set piece maps that entered the game nearer the end of its lifespan. I was pretty impressed by the update in graphical style, this spooky crypt entrance to a cave system looking like something that might belong more in Skyrim (or Legend of Grimrock, at least) than City of Heroes.

I dunno, I find it hard to judge what’s scary or not, because the honest truth is that I don’t really find even games specifically in the horror genre “scary” these days.

FEAR was effective on me because it was one of my first introductions to the concept of horror movie jump-scares being used in a first-person shooter game.

(Also, they twisted the then-common expectations of the time – ie. you’re always safe on ladders cos you were locked in a ladder climber animation and it would be unfair to present a player with a situation if you give them no animations to react with – almost reach the top and AHH, freaky little girl face staring right at you and then ghosting away. These days, stuff is sophisticated enough to let you dangle from ladders and shoot now, I think.)

But then I started watching a couple of horror movies and being mostly squicked out rather than scared per se at the repeated tropes that lent themselves more to gore and gross-out factor, and recognizing jump-scares for being what they were, and then I played Doom 3 and most of the horror kind of drained out of the genre from the endless repetition, and by the time everyone was singing the praises of Amnesia, I got about fifteen minutes into the game before getting bored out of my skull from the darkness and sneaking and “you don’t actually see anything but there’s spooky horror sounds and shit, and if you don’t act like how we want, it’s an instant game over, try again” mechanics…

…and stuff just stopped being scary for me because I ended up viewing them from a more meta design or film-critical lens.

“Ah, note the shaky camera angle meant to imply uncertainty in the protagonist, or induce a sense of motion-sickness in the viewer/player.”

“Here comes the mysterious magical little girl/doll meant to prey on our mental imagery of small female children being vulnerable and helpless and needing to be protected, turning instead into a monstrous crone figure or a giant threatening vulva or yeah, something of that nature.”

Also, there’s that whole ‘game’ aspect: it -is- a game, the real self is one step removed, the character you’re playing is in a scary, threatening situation, but you’re not. (At least, I hope you aren’t. Don’t look out the window at night while you’re mucking about with fictional horror, yeah?)

NBI Writing Prompt: I could cop out and ask you to tell me about (or show me screenshots of) things you find scary (or not) in your games.

Or I could ask you to write about stuff that scares you, and whether or not you have the same response in games.

(eg. Snakes and scorpions freak me out in real life, and I generally have a big healthy fearful respect of any critter that’s venomous or fatally dangerous to a human and am perfectly ok with this response and not interested in dulling this instinct.

A picture of a snake or scorpion in a game or a video is okay, no problems with that.

In real life though, I’ll just be way over there if something that could kill me is over here though.)

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CoH: Screenshot Nostalgia Trip #4

Only City of Heroes could get away with plonking down several different colored blobs of light and calling it a raid boss.

coh_hami1

But boy, was the Hamidon pretty.

coh_hami3

Especially once you threw in all the effects from all the heroes gathered.

coh_hami4

Or the villains.

The CoH version of a raid boss was also an open world one, in that a set number of characters could fit on that one map to kill it. (I think it was capped at 50, but I can’t recall now.)

I don’t really recall the entire old Hamidon raid strategy, though I do remember showing up bright-eyed and newbie for a couple.

I think I was probably shunted off to one of the secondary tank teams as those were my earliest max levels. I do recall seeing the primary tank (plus I think they usually had a backup standing by) and their attendant bevy of empathy healers.

The secondary tanks would get a healer or two, and were pointed at a mitochrondria to taunt. And I believe we basically just stood there with taunt on autocast, taunting our lil hearts out, until the mito-killing team got around to our mito.

Then we stood around until all the players with a hold did their thing, and went in to punch him to death when told that we could.

coh_hami2

I do remember standing by for the revamped Hamidon, while various server groups tried to figure out how to deal with him.

They eventually figured that using scrapper teams to bash the outer yellow mitochrondria to death was the answer, and I recall seeing flights of scrappers fly in to take all six yellow mitos down in sync.

Then the ranged attackers went in to deal with the blue ones – by this time, I was maining a dark/dark defender so was on this team fairly often – which were susceptible to ranged attacks.

And finally the controllers got their day in the sun by holding down the green mitos, so that they’d stop their insane regeneration, while the other teams came in to help do damage.

Once the mitos were dealt with, the nucleus of Hami was basically a big ol’ punching bag.

I recall being rather happy bringing the dark/ def, because Howling Twilight was such a great group rez. Especially when you had a trick arrow defender around to lay down an oil slick, which you could then target and trigger the power that way, mass-rezzing the whole pile of corpses that emergency teams had teleported out and stacked up.

Villain Hamidon, when it came in, was pretty interesting because though everyone had the hero strategy down pat, folks had to adjust it a little for the slight differences in villain archetypes.

The major issue was the lack of a focused tank taunter and strong emp defender heals. Some people tried to use Brutes in lieu of the hero Tankers, but it was harder since corruptors only had a secondary support powerset, rather than primary, and villains didn’t have the empathy powerset either, I don’t think.

I seem to recall someone setting up Mastermind stream teams, they’d trickle in minions one by one in a continuous stream to take and distract the main attention/aggro of Hami instead.

Then Brutes went in and did their thing against the yellow mitos as slightly nastier scrappers, blue teams were no problem (there were always tons of villainous ranged attackers) and green teams were covered by dominators (which I did a lot of, since I main’ed two doms on the villain side.)

Hamidon was an interesting social event. For whatever reason, I never felt forced into doing Hamidon – they yielded some special Hamidon enhancements, but I always found that my character could get by perfectly well without them. They were a nice lateral bonus, but never required per se.

With that bogey off my back, I could turn up sporadically during the times I could make a weekend NA raid and just turn up for the organisation and the performing in sync.

Again, no sign-ups, no gotta-put-together-a-special-raid-team-amongst-a-guild, miss-it-and-your-reputation-is-trash sort of obligation, just show as a member of the server and be lucky/early enough to be one of the 50 in the map, and voila, follow the instructions spammed in map chat, join your respective team and get yer Hami kill.

I guess the Triple Trouble Wurm in GW2 is sort of a descendant of this style of open “raiding.”

They’re probably not the only games to use this method of open raiding, though I don’t have sufficient experience to pull up many more examples.

Puzzle Pirate’s sea monster hunt might be another example – I seem to recall just jumping onto a big warship that had 30-40+ players on it, and we sailed into some scary looking waters to hunt leviathans and stuff.

(I actually had very little clue what was going on.  Just sat around earnestly doing my part on the sailing puzzle, wondering if we would ever dock again so that I could grab my share of the loot and go. Probably not that different from any other raid attendee, come to think of it.)

NBI Writing Prompt: How about you? Did you have any “different” raid experiences in any other games, or are you a veteran of the WoW-style instanced raid?

CoH: Screenshot Nostalgia Trip #1

This is the dawn of a new age for mankind....

This evening, I hooked up my old external hard disk drive and started browsing the ol’ City of Heroes screenshot folder, intending to find the -perfect- screenshot for use in the next NBI Screenshot Challenge of Murf’s.

Since I was sifting through literally hundreds of screenshots, many of them with UI (I hadn’t quite acquired the art and habit of turning off one’s interface for nice screenshots yet), I ended up chucking the rare decent to accidentally great picture into another folder of their own.

By the time I was done, there were 69 jpegs in there. (Pure coincidence. Really.)

Not only did this make choosing the -one- screenshot impossible, it occurred to me that I really wanted to share these beauties one more time (they wouldn’t exactly come up in a normal post since *cough* CoH can officially be declared “ded gaem”) and that a post with 69 screenshots would be quite insane.

Hence the decision for a series of posts with a few choice screenshots each. (Hey, it gives me something to post about. Blogger’s block is no fun.)

Way way back in Jan 2005 (more than 10 years ago, wow,) I had a stone/stone tanker as one of my first characters.

coh_pooman

Here he is, in the notorious “poo man” rock armor. His crowd control immunity skill literally “rooted” him and kept him immobile.

And one can observe his taunt aura, mudpots, in the screenshot as well. I can still recall the burbling “bloop bloop” of that skill, I sure listened to it long enough.

A whole bunch of Skulls are in the picture too. This was taken about six days before the whole “Go. Hunt. Kill Skuls.” meme, but hey, it’s a useful segue in to mention it.

coh_dwarf

When the devs finally revamped the look of rock armor, ol’ Ragnarl (or Raggy, as I liked to call him) could finally be revealed as a dwarf in combat.

Err… for some definitions of combat.

The /stone powerset was so damn slow in the early stages of leveling a tanker that I’d often just herd up a bunch of mobs around a corner and let mudpots boil them to death while I went and did other things, like read a book, browse in the other screen, get up for a bio break, whatever.

coh_mooks

For lack of anything better to do while a whole bunch of mobs were being snared in mud and boiled alive for xp, I started experimenting with the art of screenshotting with unexpected camera angles.

These were a bunch of Family mobsters. The color coding of their suits was kinda amusing. Made for a nice screenshot though.

Naturally, I’m usually too late to the party for anything.

Before I even hit max level on any tanker of mine, I heard the impending news that they were going to limit the number of mobs that could be herded with a cap.

Too many pre-Enhancement Nerf totally immune to everything invul tankers herding up whole open world map-fulls of spawns, jumping into a dumpster and burning all the dumb mobs that followed with a bonfire, apparently.

But but… I hadn’t even tried such a joyous thing yet!

coh_trolls

So I went to the Troll Caves underneath the Hollows and gathered up a whole bunch of grey Trolls on my lowbie tanker, JUST TO FEEL LIKE I HERDED STUFF LIKE A REAL TANKER ONCE, BEFORE GETTING WHACKED WITH A NERF BAT.

coh_throne

Speaking of caves, I remember there was this extremely cavernous mission filled with a ton of gangster spawns of some kind, and the gang leader’s cavern had this set piece throne, which was great screenshot fodder after mission completion. Clean forgotten the exact name of it though.

My scrapper couldn’t really give a darn. Just testing out the fit of the seat.

And that’s all the screenshots for this post. Until the next time, where we’re likely to show off herding, herding, and more herding (and maybe some other stuff but probably herding. Such bad habits my first MMO taught me…)

NBI Writing Prompt: Do you have any screenshots of stuff (a skill, a landscape, an accomplishment, etc.) that doesn’t exist anymore because the devs of your game whacked it with a nerf bat or drastically changed in some way?

2.5 Things City of Heroes Did Wrong

Ok, besides PvP. That's too easy a target. Here's the most amount of players in a CoH PvP zone ever. Attracted only by killing a dev in giant spider form.

As linked by J3w3l, Reports From the Field wrote a post on 7 Things They Felt City of Heroes Did Wrong.

Since I’m an idiot who can’t seem to figure out how their comments system works, and have a ton of CoH screenshots that are looking for an excuse to be shown off, I decided to do a blog post in reply instead.

I’m a little less picky.

I think they only got two or three things wrong.

Sadly, I think the biggest problem was a fundamental baked-in issue that the existing devs didn’t quite know how to solve.

Repetition

I’ll narrow this down further to non-varying spawn sizes in instanced tilesets that were reused over and over.

Because frankly, a lot of what we do in games is repetition, over and over, and we can still find repetition fun.

City of Heroes had no problems with replayability in terms of alts – the insane number of character slots, classes, powersets and customisation was unparalleled.

The main problem was that each alt had to level up by entering an endless set of corridors masquerading as missions, which were optimally filled by a spawn meant for an 8-person team, and every combat encounter pretty much looked like this:

2007-06-16 22:05:10

2 Bosses, a couple of Lts. and a whole bunch of minions.

Repeat encounter 14-40x depending on how many spawn points were set in that mission, and how big that map was.

Very soon, players figured out that the most efficient way to mow these things down was via AoE attacks.

To let AoE attacks hit as many as possible, get someone to group them up for you.

(Enter the ubiquitous AoE target limit – but still, hitting 10-16 is better than hitting one at a time. And cone attacks hit 5 but need them all neatly stacked up anyway.)

There were only two main ways to do this:

Option A) Herd to a Corner

A sturdy character, usually a tanker or a brute, or in a pinch a scrapper, would initiate, aggroing the spawn and dragging them all to a handy dandy nearby corner.

Once in position, everybody else opens up with whatever they’ve got.

Riffs on this include the more skilled defender or controller with debuffing options who could set up some debuff anchors, turning a nasty spawn’s alpha strike (ie. retarded AI’s initial response of firing a salvo of attacks at the first person to aggro them) into some wimps trying to beat you with feather pillows, which by default, makes anyone a sturdy person. Pull to corner as desired.

Option B) Corners, Schmorners, The Spawn is ALREADY Grouped Up

Well, it’s true, ain’t it? They spawn in a clump to begin with.

Tank runs into the center of the group, taunts by skill or combination of aggro generation powers. The group turns inward on the tank, voila, please be to kindly open up with pewpew now.

Riffs on this include those with control options – usually controllers, dominators or the odd defender who would just alpha strike the alpha strike with an “everybody freeze” power, nullifying the usual retaliation, and then the beating things up began.

There was rarely any tactical variety required, beyond the odd variation of dangerous target to be prioritized or controlled due to faction. Yes, Malta sappers suck. Literally. Draining all endurance from players tends to make powers crash and ineffectual. So hold ’em or kill ’em fast.

Others just tended to be annoying nuisances that took forever to kill. Carnival Master Illusionists summoned a bunch of annoying decoys, and phased out for 50% of the fight, making them a time-drain to even hit. Rikti Drones projected so much force field defence that you needed pretty high accuracy or to-hit to pierce through their shielding – but if you did have enough, they were pushovers.

But by and large, it was see clump of enemies, group clump of enemies, fireball (or insert choice flavor of attack here) clump of enemies. Debuff or control if you had the options to, and yes, everybody loves buffs, buff all the time plz thx bai!

AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.
AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.

Soloing, it tended to be even worse.

You were guaranteed three minions or one minion and one lieutenant. This was somehow scientifically determined by a lead game designer as the appropriate amount of challenge for any player or powerset.

Before long, you had your skill rotation down pat.

Repeat over and over as you carved your way through numerous spawns to the end of the mission.

Skip the mobs in favor of mission complete?

Well, you could… but the mobs were a big source of xp anyway. Would you prefer to go through 3 maps of unending spawns of enemies repeating the same skills in the same patterns, or would you prefer to race through 10+ maps ignoring all the enemies except that required for completing the mission to get the same amount of xp?

“……..”

Over time, I ended up street sweeping in order not to have to choose between either mindless option, forgoing the tasty mission complete xp in favor of actually feeling immersed into a world that had NPCs interacting with each other, spawns that varied in size and had to be approached differently, more space to move around and fly and tactically pick off enemies, and feeling like my actions actually had some impact on NPCs that needed rescuing or terrorizing depending on if I was playing a hero or a villain.

Not everyone was as motivated by immersion as I.

The achievement and rewards-driven folk eventually took things to their natural optimal efficiency point.

As Task Forces became more streamlined and rewarded better loot over regular missions, they became the go-to set of missions to run. As fast as possible. Gogogogo.

Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless spawns of Longbow in background.
Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless unvarying spawns of Longbow in background. (And yes, this is why one barely blinks an eye at particle effects in GW2. It’s a miracle we knew what all these things meant, with the powers customisation that allowed you to change the color of your powers.)

When Mission Architect released, of course the most popular missions would be the powerleveling xp farms with as many xp packages clumped together as possible, with the gimpiest powersets for doing the least damage to players possible.

farmmaps

And what did you do once you hit max level as fast as possible?

Either do it all over again with another alt, or go through the same set of missions at the end for… I dunno, kicks or something, or bitch and complain that there was nothing else to do and that the game was too repetitive and quit the game because you were done.

Each alt you went through, the chances were more likely that you’d eventually hit the more jaded last option at some point when you finally hit your repetition limit.

If only they could have varied the spawn sizes and positioning in each map more dynamically, I think it would have gone a LONG way towards ending the feeling of repetition.

But I suspect the mob distribution was sadly so baked-in that they couldn’t do anything about it without totally wrecking the game’s code.

The Incarnate System

Oh gods.

Words fail to convey my loathing for this system.

The solution the live team of CoH designers hit upon to prevent this burnout from repetition scenario from occuring was the ye olde raids system.

Vertical Progression. Ever Increasing Power at Max Level. Raids Involving Massed Numbers of Players. Forget Your Alts, You’ll Only Have Time to Build Up Phenomenal Levels of Cosmic Power on One or a Few Characters.

You know, City of Heroes launched at around the same time as World of Warcraft.

WHATEVER MADE THE DESIGNERS THINK THAT PLAYERS WHO CHOSE TO PLAY COH OVER WOW -=WANTED=- RAIDS?

Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames, more UI than anything.
Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames and more UI on my screen than anything else.

Wanted to be FORCED kicking and screaming into adopting and adapting to the system by virtue of exclusive loot/power that could ONLY be gotten by participating in this brand spanking new system that the designers were so proud of spending their time on?

Personally, I was attracted to the game initially because it didn’t have all of the above.

Because it had a nice friendly community that were inclusive and open to anyone teaming up with anyone, who even gave away scads of in-game money to newbies just to help them out and feel like a hero, a holy trinity flexible enough that no one had to wait around LF tank or LF healer unless they were really really picky, because I could make all the alts in my head that I wanted look and feel like how I wanted, because I had options to solo or group as I preferred.

When the game no longer felt like it was supporting this style of play and when all the brand new shiny content went a way I disliked (which has some lessons that GW2 might be well-advised to heed, given the histrionics I’ve been seeing in my comments from certain players who are perceiving the direction of the game changing in a way they dislike – though I still maintain one piece of content offering nonexclusive rewards is -different- from ALL the content in an update offering exclusive rewards that can be only obtained by playing a certain way…)

…I quit.

I canceled the sub I had been faithfully maintaining for six years, through a few minor burnout episodes that I knew would recover from taking a month or three’s break time, and quit supporting the game with cash.

I sat around watching the game lead their remaining players on from 2010 to 2012 from one piece of group content to another, grinding the same set of missions repetitively for incremental currency to build the next piece of ‘gear’ that would make their characters more powerful, and played another game instead.

Because my preferred playstyle had no viable options for obtaining the same reward.

Because the designers were so insecure in the fun level of their content that they felt they had to sneakily ‘encourage’ participation in their massed group content by making it the only non-absurd way to earn that level of power.

I only came back to check things out when the Dark Astoria zone released, making it -finally- viable for solo and small group players to start earning Incarnate levels of power.

And yeah, I chose to jump into a few raids then, because it was a -choice- on my part to see whether I found it fun (not really, beyond seeing what the fuss was about) and not because I had no other alternative.

Still, there’s a fundamental problem about vertical progression systems that only drag out the death knell.

You separate the playerbase.

You really do.

Those attracted by phenomenal levels of cosmic power and don’t mind clumping together into a group become one subset. Playing at a much higher level of power.

Why yes, I am an Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.
Why yes, I am an Inventions-kitted Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.

Those who ignore the content because they don’t like it and continue doing their own thing end up on an uneven playing field of merely ‘blue and green’ level of power compared to ‘purple and orange.’

How do you balance future content for these two different groups of players?

You don’t.

It becomes skewed to one group only.

Applying more and more pressure to the other group to conform and learn the stuff they’ve been ignoring, or they quit.

You better gamble that the group of players you’ve designed that content for is big enough to support your game via cold hard cash.

(Which is another interesting parallel to GW2 – though its fundamentals are different – exotics baseline, Ascended better, no more power increase or they’ll regret it – and the payment models are different. Who’s paying the most in either game? Casuals or hardcore, y’think?

Also, Wildstar is gambling that their hardcore base is big enough, and that their casuals will be content to be strung along with housing and some solo options.

WoW, you’d think, has managed to get by with producing endless series of tiered raids, though I do note that every expansion they keep changing things up, making things easier and easier to access and ‘catch up’, with different levels of difficulty to appeal to different groups, and generally playing a very good balancing act of continually laying treadmill track in front of their carrot-seeking audience.)

Loot / Inventions

The last factor is one I feel mixed about.

It could very well be that City of Heroes could have collapsed sooner without it.

Without loot, without Inventions, without something shiny to chase and look forward to building up and improving and giving room for theorycrafting of various intricate builds, we probably would have lost a great number of Achievement-oriented players who needed the shininess of a gear upgrade to wrap their minds around.

But catering for this group of players had some fundamental repercussions on how the community ‘feel’ changed over time.

In my opinion, a great deal of the friendly community aspect of City of Heroes was lost in the later years due to this focus on loot.

It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good.
It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good. Together.

Originally, City of Heroes was about getting together with a bunch of friends.

And everyone was a friend  and welcome on teams because everything scales up with more people, giving more xp rewards to everybody.

No one needed influence (in-game money) beyond those necessary for Single Origins, bought from vendors at a very cheap price compared to how much influence was being given out from missions. So level 50s had so much influence they didn’t know what to do with it, and ended up going back to Atlas Park and sugar-daddying newbies with it, running costume contests and lotteries and fun social stuff.

Once loot came in and an auction house, well, influence had value.

Better hoard it now. Some heroes we were, accumulating large wallet amounts that would then be spent on more upgrades for more power. We turned commercially-minded and mercantile.

Rikti Boss farm - earn large amount of tickets, buy loot.
Plus Mission Architect absurdity: Rikti Boss farm – earn large amount of tickets, buy loot. Yes, handy dandy NPC buffers standing by.

Let’s see, help a newbie or buy a Luck of the Gambler for more defence? We’ll take being godlike, thanks, the newbie can fend for itself. (Of course, not everyone did this, but by design, loot encourages selfishness and self-interest over selflessness.)

Suddenly it didn’t matter so much if the team was just having a good ol’ social time hobnobbing it up while fighting bad guys, but more about xp and loot earned/hour. Fast runs plz. We r wastin time. More missions complete, more chance for shiny loot drops.

And what was the loot for?

For making yourself powerful enough that you didn’t need a team to take on a spawn size set for 8 players.

Who needs a team when I have bots?
Who needs a team when I have obedient bots with better names?

Your ubercharged Inventions-kitted out player would feel free to run off and separate from the team and take on spawns by themselves. Why not? They weren’t punished by faceplanting. In fact, they were helping you clear the mission twice as fast!

They were soloing while ostensibly on a team.

(Which, eventually made teaming pointless to me, and drove me into soloing because I couldn’t stand associating with those players any longer.)

Eventually, an update sealed the deal by allowing any player to control the spawn sizes they wanted to fight by themselves.

Yes, this made farming easier.
Yes, this made farming easier.

And now, there was no more need for teams. Or for much of a community. Or getting to know your fellow player or bother to be nice to them.

Just set your spawn size to 8, and run your endless series of unvarying missions as quickly as possible to keep earning more influence and more loot drops and getting more powerful.

godlike

Farm it, in other words. Farm it to death and world’s end.

Or burnout from repetition.

Whichever came first.

Wildstar: First Impressions, It’s Bipolar

Cartoon spaceships. WoW. In space.

Yep, it’s WoW in space.

How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc?
How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc? Add-ons. Oi vey.

Perhaps more interestingly, it’s not JUST WoW in space.

It seems to actually blend quite a number of MMOs, having borrowed bits and pieces from each. (See how many other MMOs I name later in this post, fer instance.)

I actually quite enjoyed both the Exile and Dominion tutorial areas, for a start.

To understand this perspective, as opposed to the myriad number of whining compaints over the zone channel about how sucky the tutorial was (thank goodness the channel text is so small by default, hell is other people and they’re much easier to ignore when their words aren’t in your face,) you need to realize that I came into the Wildstar Open Beta completely unexposed to much of the prior hype beyond scanning the official website regarding classes and paths.

That is, I start like a total newbie would, and see how far the tutorial takes me.

And it took me right into the world and setting of Wildstar with fairly understated storytelling. No large walls of text, no extreme infodumps, but a lot of small things combined – visual theme, music, cutscenes, eavesdropped NPC speech, clickable signages, traditional quests, etc.

I played the Exiles tutorial first, which was probably wise, as it set the tone right away for what to expect. A space western that didn’t take itself very seriously. Full of explosions, excitement and rebel sound and fury. Pioneers and frontiersmen to this new planet of Nexus.

(Yes, I'm running on low res textures. Deal. I'm already impressed my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say... Landmark level.
(Yes, I’m running on low res textures. Deal. I’m already fairly pleased that my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say… Landmark level.)

Playing the Dominion tutorial was an interesting contrast, for sure.

The Star Wars echoes hit me there and then, and I grokked it, just like that.

Exiles are the free-spirited Rebels and Dominion are the Ebil Empire.

Long live ebil empires!
Long live all ebil empires! Hail the Emperor / Empress / Dark Lord of Indeterminate Gender!

Weirdly enough, though I belong to the rare nerd subset who aren’t at all taken with the Star Wars universe, I was quite willing to play along with Wildstar’s take on things.

(I think the difference is that Star Wars wants to be taken seriously, to be all angsty and drama-ridden, and it ends up reading like Twilight vampires – a saccharine adolescent fantasy – while Wildstar is plainly on a ‘Let’s be f–king outrageous for laughs’ roll.)

I picked up little dribbles of lore via the tutorial’s fairly good design, which you can see sneakily forces you to interact with NPC members of each species so that each race can be explained to you in game. The Temple and Imperial Musuem on the Dominion side also did a decent job sneaking in more bits of lore so you get an idea of where everything stands, so to speak.

The music of Wildstar is a giant plus in its favor.

It really sets the mood for each zone and map you wander into.

Obviously, all of the above is a matter of personal taste. If you think a game that isn’t grim-n-gritty realistic, and that unabashedly -enjoys- splashing around in bright comic colors and reveling in its comic+western+space themes is -awful-, you’re going to hate Wildstar with a vengeance.

If you’re okay with, or even laugh at being ordered around by a tiny furry space gremlin with a comic sadistic streak a mile wide and who talks a bit like Yoda but FOR MAD SCIENCE! to press buttons and accidentally incinerate, innervate and transform innocent NPCs into Creatures of Chaos in the name of bringing them back to the loving fold of the Ebil Empire, you can probably get along with Wildstar’s setting just fine.

(Oh yes, there’s themes of Warhammer 40k too, blending in right along there. You’ll know it when you get to the end of the Dominion tutorial.)

Personally, I rather liked it.

Hope that doesn't reveal too much
Hope that doesn’t reveal too much about me. Hissssss….

Out of the tutorial zone and into the more open world (insofar as that word stretches), it’s WoW all over again.

We all know the schtick by now, I’m sure. Even me that didn’t play WoW for long.

Zones are divided up by appropriate level quest hubs where you pick up a bunch of exclamation marks standing conveniently near the village/town (Wildstar addition: Settler buff stations) and then go to the nearby areas to kill and pick up and click on things as appropriate.

There will be the odd exclamation mark away from the quest hub and a little out of the way so that you can feel like you’ve found a side quest or two by somewhat wandering off the beaten track, and a bunch of clickable lore collectables that are reminiscent of Rift or EQ2.

There is some new innovation mixed in with the old in that you can contact certain quest NPCs with a communicator and call in your quests that way without having to go back to the NPC, which is the more modern and convenient take on things.

Confusing the issue though are some quest NPCs that -don’t- allow the option, so you’ll STILL have to jog your way back to those. (I wish Wildstar would make up its mind.)

Adding on to the new-and-improved WoW feeling is the addition of extra stuff to do.

Kill certain mobs or reach a certain area and a Challenge will pop up – asking you to accomplish something within a certain time limit. If you manage it, you get a random roll for some bonus loot.

Which I found rather fun, up until the point where I found the area denuded of mobs and unable to progress any further while my clock was running down, because there were five other players in the same area as me trying to do the same thing.

(Cue HEAD SLAM and heartfelt CURSE TO THE GODS for the stupid traditional MMO model of competitive nodes and competitive quest completion.)

Sometimes, it’s like Wildstar doesn’t quite know where it wants to be, having blended both old and new.

I make no apologies for running up to someone and ‘helping’ to take down their mob. Sorry, but I’m from a GW2 culture, it’s what we do.

I’ve had other people do the same to me and I’ve had mixed feelings about it.

See, the thing is, there’s no hard tagging as in older MMOs where the first to tag gets all the loot and xp. Hard tagging gives a second player no reason to help because they don’t get anything. So they run off and leave you to it.

XP appears to be automatically shared. Unfortunately, no, it’s not like GW2 where both parties get the full credit. I killed a Wildstar mob by myself for 45xp. I kill the same mob with someone else and get 20-30xp. The benefit though, is that the mob dies pretty durned quick with two people firing on it.

Then again, I’ve encountered the situation where some crazy level 15 player has decided to wander around in level 7 mob territory and singlehandedly shoots up everything from range, not letting anyone else get a hit in, effectively tagging everything by virtue of killing it dead.

Leading to a lot of foot-tapping while waiting for mobs to respawn and for this stupidly outleveled player to finish whatever he came to do and leave.

Yet, there are Public Events, and Soldier-started quests, and even the odd veteran or elite mob (at least, judging by their increase in hitpoint reservoir) or meant-for-group mob that seems to encourage just jumping into the action and helping each other attack. Because you do still kinda share quest credit completion if you manage to get tags in.

Wildstar is freaking bipolar, man.

It’ll be interesting to see what mob ettiquette winds up becoming once the player culture is more established… seems like it could go either way.

Speaking of extra stuff and Paths, I gave the Soldier, Explorer and Scientist ones a spin.

Explorer was pretty overwhelming when I got into the first zone and everything started opening up on my quest log. If you like jumping puzzles and wandering off the beaten path via following directional prompts in a quest log and climbing to high places, it’s not bad. It’s more like for Achiever-Explorers though.

(I didn’t mind the directional prompts for quests, by the by. The maps are so huge in that barren WoW fashion – ie, a cunning excuse to make the place feel big and take up more of your subscription time jogging across it – that it’s hard to determine which direction to go without it – and there’s nothing worth your while in most of the adjoining space as it’s all non-interactable background scenery or mobs.)

450 freaking meters. Of barren rock. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I'm not wasting my time wandering in circles.
400 freaking meters. Of barren rock and some random mobs. To jog ever so slowly to. Sprint notwithstanding. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I’m not wasting more of my time wandering in circles.

Scientist felt a lot more suited to the Bartle Explorer as there’s less obvious signposting. You get a little scanbot summon and keep your eyes peeled for the Scientist icon appearing on things, which you then scan to complete quests and trigger group buffs. The most fun thing I encountered playing the Scientist path was wandering into a large green teleporter-like object hoping it went someplace… and it did…

ws_eldanlab

Turns out it was a sekrit Eldan lab of some sort, with interactables that were triggerable with my scanbot, and a bit of a logic puzzle at the end (which I mostly solved via clicking very persistently until the right combination was reached, than through any real understanding.)

Got some speshul achievements out of it and a bit more story lore as to what was going on with the zone – like how a certain NPC faction we were fighting came to be. Which was neat, and did trigger all the right chords in lil ol’ Explorer me.

The Soldier path I found pretty fun too. As it opened up more combat opportunities.

(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will determine if you like Wildstar or not.)
(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will give you a good inkling if you like Wildstar’s atmosphere or not.)

Ah, combat.

To me, this makes or breaks whether I can stand to play certain MMOs.

If the combat isn’t enjoyable, I simply can not stay with it for long, since that tends to be the most common activity on repeat loop.

Wildstar combat reminded me of City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2, with a side helping of Rift or TSW AoE indicators and talent trees.

Which, if you know my MMO history, reflects fairly well on it.

I got City of Heroes vibes from the three classes I tried up to level 6-10 or so. The Warrior was like a tanker in pace. Heavy stately (some might even say, slow) attacks. Each blow ought to be placed for maximum effect, because you’ll be wasting a lot of animation time otherwise.

Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it!
Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it! Cleavecleavecleave. Cackle gleefully. (The joys of Soldier holdout quests.)

The Stalker brought with it echoes of both CoH’s stalker and scrapper class. Melee deeps, baby. With stealth! If you like fast melee animations and spamming buttons up in melee range, this is the class for you. It attacks at a much faster pace than the Warrior, but generally hits for a little less each blow (stealth backstabs excepted).

The Spellslinger reminded me of a CoH blaster. It had a ‘snipe’-alike that required some setup time and could wipe off a lot of hp from enemies, and then you cleaned up with some mobile pewpew.

Balance-wise, I dunno, it’s going to take some time for things to shake or settle on that front, I feel.

And it might go in a number of directions, from traditional specialized holy trinity to hybrid combinations, depending on what the true numbers turn out to be.

I kept seeing Medics plow through fields of mobs at a pace that my warrior could only dream of, ranged dps/heals has always been a fairly potent tank-mage combination. (Groups of defenders and corruptors in CoH were always very popular and successful, and easily kept apace with or were even better than specialized tanker/blaster/heal0r combinations.)

The Engineer looked to have some interesting robot pets and can apparently be a ranged tank (shades of City of Villain’s mastermind, anyone?)

Movement and positioning-wise, experience with GW2 stands you in very good stead in Wildstar.

I watched a fellow Warrior stand toe to toe with a couple of even-level mobs and get knocked around to half hp or less, and he had to use a consumable heal to recover and defeat them.

Then I waited for the same mobs to respawn and danced around their telegraphed AoE cleaves, interspersed a knockdown at the correct timing, and slaughtered them with barely a dent in my shields.

Oh, I -love- the interrupts in Wildstar. Watching the heavy telegraphing disappear with one well-timed interrupt (knockdown, stun, etc.) on a group of mobs, and following up with a synergy attack that does extra damage to knocked down mobs, is such a great feeling. It makes it really obvious that your cc just prevented a world of hurt and the tables have just turned. Making crowd control feel good has been always pretty hard to do in MMOs.

It does lack some of the elegance of GW2, in that there’s less of a focus on watching mob animations and tells (crucial in GW2) and more on watching colored indicators of crazy shapes and sizes on the ground. So you’re more always looking at the -floor- rather than at the mobs per se. (Granted, it’s not like you can see certain mobs in GW2 either once they get covered in particle effects.)

There’s still a bit of a bipolar feel to Wildstar combat-wise.

I keep wanting to know if it is possible for good movement and positioning to reward a skilled player with being able to solo content meant for groups. (I really would like such a possibility to be an option, with speed of group clears being the bonus encouragement for grouping.)

I tried it with a group quest marked for 2+ players. Some random named mob, Direclaw or some such. I ran in with my warrior and CIRCLE STRAFED the sh-t out of it. This actually -almost- defeated the AI, and I was getting the 6.8k hp down 100-120hp at a time, though I did catch some damage from unavoidable blows and some unexpected AoE and was frightened enough for my hp bar to pop a health consumable.

Unfortunately, I think I chose to pop the health consumable a little too early, when I was at half health and ended up wasting some extra hp I could have really used. I ended up dying with it having a -sliver- of hp left.

(Of course, after that, an extra player showed up while I was ghosting around dead and sulking. I watched him attempt to tank the mob solo with his bots and he didn’t seem like he was getting very far on that front, so I chose to splurge and spend half my accumulated currency to respawn right there and then to jump in and help. Then a third player showed up and the group mob got pwned.)

I suspect there will be a hard limit later on just how far this is possible, given how traditionally WoW Wildstar seems to be trying to cling on to. (Wouldn’t do for all the co-dependent players to start crying, y’know, that their precious specialized roles feel unwanted…) Which is sad, in my book.

On paper, there does seem to be room for hybrid roles. The APM tree, or whatever it’s called, is some kind of point buy system which separates out the Wildstar trinity into Assault, Support and Utility, and allows for hybrids between the three. But I suspect the theorycrafters will get to it sooner than later and develop their cookie cutters for best dps, best tanking, and best healing, and all that middle flexibility will be lost in the search for optimization. I mean, it’s really too much work otherwise for many other players to figure out, so the easiest path of least resistance will be to copy someone else’s builds, down the road.

The skill and build selection portion is interesting, in that it has shades of GW2 and TSW. Your skill loadout at any time is limited, and you’ve got more than enough skills to fill the bar. So pick and choose the ones that fit together best for the purposes you’re trying to achieve. You could go full assault, or full support, or some mix of the two, choose skills with interrupts, skills that build threat or those that don’t, skills that keep you mobile, etc.

ws_actionset

I had little to no issues pressing 1 repeatedly due to both CoH and GW2 prior training, where sometimes you don’t just want to rely on the preset autoattack and want to queue up your basic attack at a better interval. Mileage of folks more used to a less active system may vary.

And here’s where it gets bipolar yet again. It seems like a great combat system that brings in a lot of the innovations of the newer MMOs, that is going to be put to a very old and traditional use.

My admittedly limited take on the Wildstar endgame is that it is going to be PvP like WoW battlegrounds, 5-man dungeons and *wince* 20 and 40-man raids.

This in an age where even World of Warcraft is going flex in their raiding.

Are players going to innovate in their builds if you set them up with exponentially increasing gear and stats and scenarios that are likely going to challenge a very specialized holy trinity?

Or are they simply going to go back to what is familiar to them.

Truth is, I know I have no long-term future in Wildstar if they’re going to stick to a traditional MMO endgame.

I wouldn’t mind playing along with the leveling game to experience some of the stories and content, enjoy some of the combat along the way, but I’ll be damned if I have to put my fate in the hands of a tank or healer that I -hope- is competent enough, or have to wait for ages for a tank/healer duo to deign to pick up some disposable and interchangeable dps, or alarm clock raid for weeks on end because I’ll be letting down 19 or 39 other players if I don’t meet a schedule in order to progress, ever again.

Nor am I going to pay $15 like clockwork every month for a game that tries to take up as much of my time as possible around every turn.

Why should I, if I can play comparable games like Rift or TSW or LOTRO or whatever for free?

Sure, they say, if you’re hardcore enough and can earn enough gold, you can buy a month’s sub in game coin from other players willing to drop the cash for you. Which is all very well if you want to be hardcore enough, but I’d really rather not go the traditional WoW hardcore route, thanks. (I’d already be playing WoW for that, right? Cos being hardcore means keeping up with all those prior commitments and investments of time.)

So as a filthy casual, it’s unlikely I’ll can earn enough for a sub in-game just to feed a leveling urge.

If I ever found a month that I can devote tons of time to Wildstar, I might put down $15 for that month to just go on a leveling/story/combat spree for a while.

But I wouldn’t want sub time ticking down on me otherwise, feeling guilty that I can only play it irregularly or for limited periods a week (which in a sub game designed by nature to waste your time, may not be sufficient to get anywhere at a reasonable clip.)

As for buying the box at full price… well…

Let’s put it this way. If I wanted to commit fully to Wildstar and be that hardcore raider and PvPer and house owner and what-not, yeah, I think Wildstar is worth the box price AND the sub every month.

For just wanting to casually sample some stories while leveling and play with the combat system, I’m thinking more in the 50% off range, and hoping that the included 30 days is enough. Maybe a month or two more if one gets hooked, and less if it gets boring.

If it goes free to play at any point, hell yeah, I think it’ll be really worth it then.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how many of each player type there are and how many Wildstar is hoping to capture from each group.

I suspect Wildstar should gain a decent enough following akin to Rift or TSW to keep it going, more or less.

That there’ll be a LOT of three monthers falling off the title.

And that there’ll be quite a number of players like me who don’t think the game is that bad, but are unwilling to spend the time or money at present, and will sit on the sidelines waiting for the situation to get more attractive before considering jumping in.

In the meantime, the week-long Open Beta is a great opportunity to play free and make your own decision whether you’re ready for that MMO marriage to Wildstar.

I know -I’ll- be playing it for all its worth while it’s still free.

I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these little critters
I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these delightful little critters is worth spending some one-night-stands on, right? (The Chua and Draken race animations are pretty neat, by the by. I could double jump all day as a Chua and grin at the resulting tucked-into-a-ball roll on the ground. ALL FREAKIN’ DAY.)