GW2: The Other Spectrum of Handholding

Lest it be said that I am not an equal opportunity fun-poker…

…here’s what might happen in a game which gives you plenty of choice, rather than forcing you and leading you by the nose down a 12-step program.

First Lvl 80 in GW2 – How Do I Get Good Gear?

gw2gearinghumor

I did have it in mind to make a beautiful-looking 12-step attunement-like chart that shows off the range of choice and alternatives for doing so.

But that would actually take -work- and time.

While that is on the backburner, if you did somehow stumble onto this looking for real help:

  • Get a set of Soldier’s exotics from the Orr Temples for karma, or from WvW using badges of honor.
  • Get a set of Berserker’s exotics and weapons from WvW, dungeons, crafting or the TP.
  • Get exotic Berserker trinkets from crafting, the TP, or look into your Ascended options with laurels, WvW badges and guild commendations.

Those should -generally- stand you in decent stead for most power builds for dungeoneering and basic WvW until you have more time and experience to get all finesse and experimental with condition builds or more toughness/vitality/healing WvW builds.

And guess what, those won’t obsolete in a hurry with every new raid boss released! They’ll be good for a long time until you -choose- to upgrade them with fancy schmancy Ascended options.

TSW: First Impressions of Final Beta Weekend #4

Dark foggy days are coming.

Mixed bag. Mixed signals. I’m torn.

That’s the TL:DR summary, you can go away now if you don’t want my wall-of-text detailed analysis.

Before We Begin

You’ll note I took the trouble to specify these impressions are only for this weekend, since their client has this qualifier scrawled across their notes screen:

“Please keep in mind that the version of The Secret World you will be playing this Beta Weekend is not the final version of the game. Many issues and elements are constantly being improved upon before launch.”

Riiight. Call me cynical, but I translate that as “We will promise we will be continually working to improve this game, but we have run out of time and have to launch this.” In other words, you will be playing and paying for a work in progress for quite a while yet.

On the bright side, I do believe they are fixing stuff as fast as they can. In between yesterday and today, I’ve had to download quite a few patches to be able to log in, and active dodging in combat was reactivated (to name a really obvious change) so there’s fixes coming in.

It’s not like they’ve given up and wiped their hands of the MMO and are just going to launch it to grab what money they can like some other companies I could think of. I think it fits Funcom’s pattern to keep working away at their games and keeping the doors unshuttered for the long term, though they may never have enough resources to polish their MMOs to full potential.

On the pragmatic side, this sure is a hell of a lot of -known- bugs and issues for an MMO that is due to launch like…now.

They probably suspect that this is the best window. Before Guild Wars 2 launches. Within 2012, because their story alludes to it being the year 2012.

Personally, I put up with Age of Conan’s bugginess and unfinished nature for about 3 months while marking time for Warhammer’s launch (which also lasted about 3 months, but that’s another story) and I’m having trouble convincing myself that paying for lack of polish is okay, especially when there are more polished and/or free (just less new) options available on the market.

On First Logging In

The program jittered and stuttered on the movies that played the logos but they played, and I got all the way to the log-in screen. Then I tried to pick a server, and found out I couldn’t create a character on a single one. Kept throwing me back and saying the slots were all full. WTF? I don’t have a single character made, there’s three slots sitting right there, how can they be full?

Quit, did some forums searching, turns out that behavior occurs if there’s been a patch/update in between that you missed. (Well, I was downloading a huge 20+ gb client for over 24 hours, so it’s no wonder that I must have missed a patch.)

Want a good laugh? This was the client downloader midway through. I looked at that progress bar poking out onto my desktop and said, “Lol, this calls for a screenshot.”

On the bright side, it did stop before it hit 25 gb, and it later expanded itself into a 30gb folder on my hard disk. (I shoved Aion onto a spare external hard disk to make room. Copy it back later when I feel like trying out the game again, assuming the NCsoft launcher doesn’t have issues with me doing that. But that’s another story.)

Started the game for the second time after downloading the necessary missing patch, and promptly crashed because I was trying to click away or bang on Esc to skip the corporate logo movies. Hrm. (For the record, subsequent times have allowed me to skip them just fine by pressing Esc once. I have no idea why it was being so temperamental just then. But I’m pointing out the my exact first impressions flow of events, good and bad alike.)

Third time lucky. Started the program again, logged in, selected a server and made it to the character creation screen. Yay, I can actually make a character now!

On the Character Screen and TSW’s Graphics

It’s about this point that I first started running into an issue that sits like a big plague-monkey on my back. At certain points, like in the character screen and certain cutscenes, my graphics lag and typically take 15-60 seconds to load in, coming in layers, low resolution textures at first and then smoothing to higher resolution stuff. Not all the time, but enough to be annoying.

It’s most obvious on the character load screen. This is what it looks like for me right on starting up (after having made my first Illuminati character, that is.)

That’s just not normal. Most other MMOs will show you your character, right?

Turns out, so does The Secret World. If I wait for a good minute or so, then this eventually fills in around the brown-grey spaces.

Now I’ll quantify right off that I’m not playing The Secret World at the ideal recommended uber-graphics card 64-bit Windows 7 DirectX11 settings. I am completely well aware of the fact that I’ll never get as awesomely gorgeous lighting and shadows and beautiful textures as the media screenshots on their website.

Considering the negative rumor mill and me running a 32-bit Windows XP DirectX9 machine with an ATI 4870 card (ATI cards being somewhat notorious for having issues where Nvidia doesn’t, now and then), I was already pleasantly surprised to find that the game loaded at all. The starting resolution and graphics quality was extremely low on the default setting, and I was able to crank it up to somewhere between medium-high on a 1680 x 1050 full screen – the client automatically restricts the draw distance and other advanced settings due to memory limitations on 32-bit Windows.

Decently pretty.

However, I’m always aware of and made to feel slightly like a second class citizen because of this graphics lag issue. Even the graphics setting never misses a beat to tell me this.

The impression I get is that you don’t care about me as a potential audience. That you can’t really be bothered to optimize for lower performing systems. That accessibility of your game is not a factor. Whereas games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic go for stylized graphics precisely because they want the game to work well on lower-end systems, while Guild Wars 2 tests the look of their game on antiquated graphics cards that can’t even be bought off the shelves anymore because they want the game to still look good for the average gamer.

It’s weird because I do think you -are- working on optimizing for lower end systems too, as and when you can. My load times have been speeding up over this last beta weekend. And the game -is- playable, on the whole, for me.

Monitoring FPS, I get anywhere from a playable 25-40 FPS most times, going up to 45 FPS in solo instances and dropping to 5-20 FPS for a couple seconds in the rare crowded locales before going up again. It’s better performance than I got with Age of Conan, where I could hit 1-5 FPS in the cities. (Ironically, it was AoC which made me feel like I needed to upgrade my graphics card about 4-5 years ago. I did, and it improved somewhat, but not by much.)

So then the final impression I get is that of bugginess and lack of polish and optimization. Bits work here, and parts don’t work there. For 90% of the cutscenes, they play perfectly fine and look pretty okay, if not spectacular because my system isn’t high-end…

…and then I get this view of a van that dashes in for 1-2 seconds, which is too fast for my computer to apply a good high-res texture to.

And it kinda shatters the immersion that is being built up.

(Unless, hmm, maybe I can pretend that I’m playing in a big Matrix-computer-style set up, so there are occasions where the quality of the graphics becomes digitized as the world fails to render properly!)

On Character Creation

It’s not terrible. I’ll say that much. There’s a decent range of options and colors and head, hair, clothing types. Enough to create fairly unique and distinct characters that don’t all look like clones on first entering the game.

That is, if you could actually see your character.

It’s that graphics bugaboo I mentioned earlier. I don’t get it. For practically any other MMO I play, it doesn’t take 3-5 seconds to pause and first load the background in bits and pieces, then slowly load and display the character. In The Secret World’s character creation screen, it does.

When it does finally load in, it isn’t half bad at all.

At least, if the sliders worked properly. For some reason, they’re acting clunky in character creation. I can’t click on the knob and drag. The pixel location is off, or something.

At first, I was wondering if it was a lag issue from having to load in the different styles and textures, but my computer doesn’t grind or in any way act like it’s trying to load anything.

What I have to do is somehow click away at each slider, up and around and down until it suddenly registers as active, and my mouse wheel can suddenly work to scroll up and down through the selections with nary a pause at all. If I get really lucky and pick the perfect pixel location, then I can drag the knobs left and right as you’d expect.

And then I go through the same thing per bar I select. And if I need to backtrack on an option, same problem with the knobs. It’s really weird because the color selection has no issues. Click and everything changes with nary a pause. The drop down box has no issues. The knobs make me want to tear out my hair.

My only possible conclusion? Buggy.

On Names

Here’s one thing about the Secret World that I do like. Quite a bit.

You have to fill in three names. First name, nickname, and a last name. So everyone goes around being identified as John/Jane “Moniker” Doe and it adds a bit to the immersive aspect of the setting. The naming policy encourages most people to use pretty immersive names too, pretty much the worst I’ve seen are those that run around in all lowercase. Even those that just have a few numbers tacked on the end of their nickname kind of resemble Internet monikers.

What’s less nice, that I found out on my second character made, is that the nickname has to be unique. And no spaces are allowed.

It’s a bit of a shame, considering that if you used all three names in combination, we might get more flexibility and freedom in naming, similar to City of Heroes or Guild Wars 1. Now instead what we’re going to end up with is people warring for the best sexy superhero or hacker-style nickname and lots of good options being taken up very very soon. It’s already a pain on City of Heroes to get good names, and we get the option of spaces there. Here, all we get are hyphens and a shorter character limit, which does not bode well for the future.

I also foresee that people are going to be hard pressed to tell the difference between Nightshadow and Night-shadow (both names are naturally taken by this time.) Hopefully they don’t end up playing or talking together at the same time.

On Group and Combat Mechanics

Speaking of playing together, I’m a little disappointed. Just a bit.

Bear in mind the last beta I was just playing was Guild Wars 2, so when I first started the game and got to Kingsmouth, I saw people fighting zombies in a setting that looks like it was cut out from Left 4 Dead… what’s the first thing I’m going to do? Run in and help blow zombies up, of course!

Then I noticed that:

a) I generally wasn’t getting any xp from helping kill mobs other players were already fighting (or just a smidgen, normally from untagged mobs)

and

b) when some other well-meaning player helped me on my zombies, the amount of experience I got was dramatically decreased

Oh.

I guess we’re back to traditional MMO mechanics where you have to officially form a group first. I better stop “helping” before someone shouts at me for killstealing them. Sad panda.

From then on, I stopped caring about other players and treated them as essentially a big faceless crowd of moving distractions that are all following the same story path.

It’s especially sad because the tutorial mission has you helping out three NPCs with a shotgun, fighting multiple mobs, fer goodness sake’s. In action combat. Where running and dodging and firing as you ran was important. It felt so modern and enlightened. Yet we still have a reminder of old MMO roots simply because the reward scheme still feels oldfashioned.

Combat on the whole reminds me of a good mix between Guild Wars 2, Guild Wars 1 and City of Heroes. That’s a good thing. A really really good thing.

It has active moving combat pretty similar to GW2, especially when active dodge is operational. I am especially pleased by the clarity of the enemy’s attacks and AoE effects (I’ve complained before about some other games) but TSW is as good as Rift in that respect.

You see the clarity of that circle? That’s cool. It’s clear and it is fair and it gives you time to move the hell away.

You’re a split second too late to see the spinning backflip I did to get out of the way of his AoE attack. But trust me, it was cool.

Double tapping W, A, S, D works well to dodge about. An active dodge bar appears as a countdown timer to indicate that you can’t do another dodge until it expires.

Here’s another nice one. This cone gradually shrinks in size, acting as a timer to indicate that he’s going to do a cone attack in the vicinity. Get outta the way now. Very nice.

It’s similar to Guild Wars 1 in the sense that you have to pick skills from a potentially large pool, and the choices of that selection indicate your combat options and role in battle. TSW gives you 7 active skills and 7 passive skills at any time, and the trick is to find stuff that synergizes well together and add on other utility skills as desired.

And it’s similar to GW and City of Heroes in that you’re generally a profession/profession. TSW has three melee weapons, fists, blade and hammer. Three ranged weapons, assault rifle, pistols and shotgun. And three magic weapons, chaos, blood and elemental. When you’re just starting out with limited AP and SP to buy skills and abilities, it’s generally a good idea to focus on a two weapon combat synergy style at first, before branching out later.

These two weapon synergy styles have suggested ‘decks,’ sort of a characteristic class of certain factions, which provide some nice structured guidance for people coming in cold and new to the entire system. No doubt some people will find that certain combinations are more uber than others as time goes on, but a nice balancing point is that everyone should be able to eventually pick up everything they want in a leveless, classless system. I just don’t know how much grind that would involve, though.

The holy trinity also still seems to be in operation in this game. Perhaps a little looser as there is quite a lot of option for hybrids and there’s flexibility to switch roles, but time will tell.

I actually think grouping might be quite fun in this game, if there is leeway for synergies to naturally develop, but I fear that if the dungeon difficulties are too high and too challenging, then we’ll see people being forced into very cookie cutter ‘expected’ heal/tank/dps roles for simplicity’s sake. I suspect the latter will happen, though I much prefer the former.

On Loadscreens

They’re there. On my computer, they take anywhere from 1-3 minutes to load, sooner for small cutscenes. People who dislike loading screens for immersion disruption reasons will not be happy.

Me, I don’t mind them. And I put up with worse loadscreens in Age of Conan, that literally took 5 minutes or more to struggle to load a very small zone. In TSW, the zone of Kingsmouth looks fairly big and open by comparison, so if I have to put up with short loadscreens to get the zone to a playable unlaggy state, that’s fine by me. It’s nice art and a helpful tip on those screens anyway.

On Missions and Quest Flow

On the whole, I approve. Investigation missions were turned off in this beta, which make me very curious about them because I think I will like them.

Regardless, the missions I played had a smooth flow, some involved a bit of thinking and looking around (much to some people’s exasperation as that provides a constant flow of repeated dumb questions and spoilers flying about on General chat – me, I stopped reading it in order not to spoil myself), and had a good mix of combat and story.

I like the designed difference in mission flow. TSW Search explains it here in a comprehensive guide, I’ll just paste the relevant explanation in a picture here for completeness:

Turns out it is actually designed in such a way that as one of your quests ends, you should be able to find another mission to pick up within 50m or so. Some interesting item should be obvious.

I like it. It’s a nice blend of exploration and achievement. While on the mission, you have clarity of direction and intent. But you can follow the thread to its end, then pick up another and another and be wandering all over the place without feeling obliged to report back in to quest hub central.

They’ve also taken the idea of cell phones from City of Heroes and taken it one step further. Mission reports can be sent in from your location once you finish the quest, and you get the rewards beamed to you instantly and painlessly. (Being part of an ancient occult technomagical faction has its perks, I guess.)

On Cutscenes

The voice acting is very good. The quality of writing in the stories is top notch. Granted, you have to like the setting and the rambling high-falutin’ prose that comes with that sort of urban fantastic occulto-technomagic ‘everything is a secret conspiracy’ genre. There are a lot of interesting characters and stories that I want to know more about.

The animation quality is only so-so. A bit disappointing and uncanny valley at times, but generally acceptable.

What’s extremely fucking weird is that your character doesn’t ever speak at all, and has the strangest robot face in most of the cutscenes.

Okay, I know the pro-argument for this. It’s extremely immersion-breaking if your character acts in ways that contradict your character concept. It’s sometimes better if the character just shuts up and lets your imagination write in the gaps.

But let me assure you it is also JUST as immersion-breaking if your character stands there silently for the entire cutscene, watching the NPC monologue, nicely voice acted out though it is. Especially if the NPC reacts like you said something, and you evidently didn’t.

Guild Wars 1 and 2 has dialogue. Your character says some generic hero stuff, but they say something. City of Heroes sometimes puts words in your character’s mouth when replying back to the mission text, and yes, they get it horribly wrong at times, but they do say something and imply some sort of motive or personality. I believe SWTOR also has your characters say something and react to the NPCs, though it may be generic Jedi or Bounty Hunter or Insert Class Here sort of reaction.

TSW is very very weird because in some cutscenes, they do assume some sort of reaction from your character (example, the NPC monloguing changes topic or subject because you presumably said or asked something) and then in this Dragon intro, you’re practically having a sexual encounter from the get go (I wasn’t expecting lesbian sex when I chose the female character option and that faction, but hey, bonus):

There’s -some- reaction animated on your character’s face – probably because it’s impossible not to. But your character remains MUTE throughout it all. It’s really a bit freaky.

It’s as if the best immersive option is to assume that your character is a mute telepath that can project their questions directly into the NPC’s minds. Perhaps the bug you ate that gave you magical superpowers also took away your powers of speech, along with bestowing fantastic combat ability and the link to a faction.

Viewed in that conspiracy theorist light, it all makes perfect sense.

On My See-Saw Conclusion

Despite the bugs and weird freakiness and general instability (on the plus side, I didn’t crash up to the training dojang even while print-screening and alt-tabbing out to paste screenshots – because the ingame screenshot key acts a little weird now and then – on the minus side, I was constantly crashing right after that when alt-tabbed), I am quite intrigued by the game.

I’m extremely fond of the setting TSW is set in. I’ve always wanted to experience the kind of Mage: The Ascension (or the newer, Awakening) or Unknown Armies occult underground conspiracy theory sort of world.

I approve of the combat system, the idea of a leveless and classless skill-based system, and the missions look quite playable and tell a good story. If you look at the gameplay features on The Secret World’s website, they deliver all of that. (Along with bugs.)

I would essentially be playing TSW as a singleplayer game in an MMO world to let the writers tell me their stories, and… this is where the doubt comes in, I’m not sure if I want to pay a box price, plus a sub fee, plus whatever else they decide to throw in their cash shop, for that.

The graphics are a key deciding factor for me. To be frank, if I was on a Windows 7 high powered graphics card kind of system that displays The Secret World well and in all its glory, I would be happy to put down for it right now and just play 3 months or so until I exhausted the content.

At the moment, my real world budget and priorities prohibit that. (My present computer is so put together AND old that I’ve decided instead of upgrading piecemeal, I will get a complete new system – new OS, new card, new hard disk, new power supply, new monitors, new everything, and bonus, I’ll have two machines to dual box with eventually. But budgetary and economic concerns indicate that’s not likely to come until Christmas or next year.)

So I’m stuck with pretty, but not awesomely spectacular graphics if I decide to play The Secret World within these six months. (And the bugs, and the second class citizenship thing.)

On one hand, if I wait until next year, it should look and feel really great. Funcom will no doubt have fixed more bugs by then, maybe even have an expansion in the works. The price will no doubt be cheaper.

Or there may not even be a Secret World next year, especially in the wake of Guild Wars 2, which I plan on playing fanatically. And all the spoilers would be out on all the storylines. And it would be quite impossible to find PUGs for dungeons then – whereas if I play with the starting crowd of any MMO, there’s always more group-ish excitement.

Then again, do I want group-ish excitement in this MMO, because it still has some ugly oldschool roots? I pay a lot more attention to players and supporting them in Guild Wars 2 because the mechanics support me doing so. In TSW, that’s not going to happen until they install some kind of public grouping button because I refuse to make and lead old style groups anymore, they’re just not my thing and other MMOs have demonstrated much easier ways for players to casually interact.

I dunno. It ultimately comes down to how much I feel the positive aspects are worth the box price (which is expensive at 50 euros with the exchange rate the way it is), while also taking the negative aspects into account.

And I’m still on a see-saw about that.

For what it’s worth, I’m a lot more interested in considering The Secret World -after- my beta weekend #4 experience than before.

So hey, that’s something.

CoH: WTB Clarity

Let’s play a game of compare and contrast!

Behavior Adjustment Facility (BAF) Trial – Some Praetorian Clockwork Elite-ish bosses with an air to ground rocket attack

Can anyone tell me where the AoE damage will be coming down in 2-3 seconds from now?

Rhetorical question, I suspect.

This picture is a little messier. Can you tell me where one should be wary of standing, in case some kind of cage forms?

Behavior Adjustment Facility (BAF) Trial – Nightstar’s sequestration warnings

In the above case, the mechanic gives you two chances and a long interval to react as well. The player’s name appears in a pop up “Player Name: First Sequestration Warning!”

Then “Second Sequestration Warning!” And if you haven’t moved out of range by then, then this happens:

You’re held. It says so in bright red. You can’t move. There’s awful red fencing everywhere on your screen, and it’s a really clear indication that you don’t want to have this keep happening, and you’ll do better next time when you see the warning circles come up. That’s a fair gimmick.

Now, how about this picture?

Magisterium (MAG) Trial – Tyrant’s Fist

I’m going to have to break this down for you. And probably this image is best expanded to digest properly…

From the Paragon Wiki’s still incomplete breakdown of the trial:

Hammer of Justice is another attack to watch out for due to the 60ft range PBAoE which does not display any warning and deals severe Smashing/Energy damage. Unlike Statesman’s version, Tyrant is able to use his in midair.

I’m going to guess this fist attack is what they’re referring to. I’m not entirely sure, it’s not as if he says “EAT MY HAMMER OF JUSTICE” before he does it.

What Tyrant does do, is raise his fist in the air. This fist raise appears to be mildly more vertical than his other fist raise which just does a normal attack on the tank. About 0.5 seconds later, his fist comes down, and that cracked ground effect shows up. At the same time, no delay, no nothing, everyone near him (apparently a 60ft range if we trust the wiki) eats an attack which does 1000-4000 hp damage, presumably depending on your resistances and your current level shift at the time.

That’s likely to one-shot anyone not a brute or a tank with high hp. So what cue are we supposed to look out for here? The damage extends beyond the cracked ground effect, so you can’t even use that as a judgement of where not to stand. I’m directly behind him and I still got demolished.

I guess everyone just needs to read the wiki and know exactly how large 60ft is in their heads.

And when do we back away from him anyhow? If we spend the whole trial 60ft away to avoid this attack, all melee is screwed. 0.5 seconds is not enough time to move when you see his fist raise – assuming that you aren’t locked in an attack animation to begin with.

I suppose we just need to count to 30 in our heads per fist attack and hope that’s the interval at which he attacks – assuming it’s not random.

Conclusion: Bad bad design

(I will get around to explaining why I have UI splashed across my entire screen when dealing with this trial, so hang tight.)

I will grant that Tyrant has two other gimmicks which skirt the edge of clarity fairness into ‘acceptable’ territory.

Tyrant, as an incarnation of Marcus Cole/Statesman, has a signature Zeus lightning style kind of attack. This is cued by a red letter splash warning: “The air around Tyrant crackles!”

1-2 seconds later, if you are within a radius of Tyrant approximately the size of the crater he spawns in, a lightning patch will be summoned at your feet – which steadily trickles in 100-200 hp damage per tick for a period of time. Paragon Wiki says 12 ticks, I’ve never bothered to stand in one long enough to count, cos I’ll be dead before all the ticks hit.

This applies to all players, so your screen sort of looks like this every 35 odd seconds. Don’t stand in any of the bright patches, kthxbai.

It’s moderately fair. 1-2 seconds is a pretty short time interval to react, given the preponderance of long rooting animations in CoH, but it is doable. And even if you don’t have time to completely dodge all the way, you can survive one or two ticks of the lightning patch with not too much harm, as long as you don’t get trapped in overlapping patches.

On the other paw, they -are- awfully bright and it’s not like the exact radius of the patch is demarcated clearly. People have crashed out when their graphics cards can no longer manage to draw the intense lightning strikes (or a memory leak of some kind, most often seen when playing for too long in big groups with too much particle effects.)

His other gimmick can be seen cued in the trial UI, and the bright yellowish-white cylindrical pillars of light (as contrasted with the bright purple-white jaggly pillars of light). Those are his Lights of the Well, and they can be taken down with a temporary power all players get when doing the trial, called the Quills of Jocas.

The trial UI indicates the Time until Light of the Well. When it ticks down to 0, all the Lights respawn. It’s about 38 seconds or thereabouts per interval. At least it is cued in the UI. This is fair.

In this way, the people assigned to managing the Lights can anticipate roughly when they will spawn, backing away from Tyrant maybe 3-5 seconds before they spawn, hit their Quills temp power and destroy the Lights quickly. Never mind that the players had to figure out how to use the Quills – it’s an AoE attack, standing near or in the pillar of light works, no need to target the Lights like previous temp powers used in another trial. The animation is a quill burst – players can figure it out from there.

Again, the number of Lights (Connections to the Well – why the different terminology, eh?) existing at any time are cued in the UI. This is fair. Bad design would be not indicating the number of Lights in the UI and forcing people to rotate their screens to keep track and count manually. This is a key gimmick, a key mechanic, it -should- be cued.

But guess what, it’s not ENTIRELY cued. The result of taking down all the lights is NOT indicated to everyone. It is supposed to level shift everyone in the league upwards 1 level per light destroyed. Level shifts are usually only indicated in one place in the normal CoH UI – by highlighting another player and checking their levels in the target window.

How do you see if you yourself are level shifted? You don’t glow or anything. You’d think someone might have thought about adding that as a visual indicator.

Or even, write BRIGHT BLUE LETTERS across players’ screens going “YOU HAVE SEVERED TYRANT’S CONNECTIONS TO THE WELL AND STOLEN HIS POWER” (it’s not like there isn’t prior use of this) or have Tyrant curse out loud, “How dare you take my power from me? You will still die!”

No, what you have to do, assuming you read forum boards and pay attention to this sort of thing, is click on your Powers button, then enable Combat Attributes. This brings up the advanced Combat Attributes in the middle of your window. Click on the +Base to expand and scroll down the long list:

Right at the bottom, you see those tiny words “Level Shift?”

Right-click on that. Select “Monitor Level Shift”. And your level shift will finally appear in smaller form in your Attribute Monitor window. Which for me, I smashed to the right of my screen real estate to keep an eye on.

With that up, one can -finally- keep track of one’s level shifting while in the Magisterium Trial fighting Tyrant.

That’s where you find out that the level shifting only appears to happen:

a) in between the short interval that the lights are taken down and the lights come up again

b) possibly when Tyrant’s favor of the well is 50% or less (that’s just my personal guess from observations made – it’s not like the UI explains what the favor of the well is for, besides the cryptic message “The Well will favor the stronger combatant” nor does it explain how exactly to affect Tyrant’s favor anywhere)

c) and only to maybe 16 people out of a 24 member max trial, possibly within a certain radius of Tyrant or Tyrant and/or the players may have to remain in the vicinity of an invisible mob that does the level shifting, no one really knows for effing sure

Should players really have to guess at why or why not this key mechanic is or isn’t working?

In one of my above screenshots, a leaguemate asks, “What does it mean your soul will be trapped if you die?”

That’s the message the cryptic UI reports. I have no clue what it means. Neither does anyone else, if the lack of explanation is any indicator. Does that mean if you die, you won’t be able to level shift for a while? Does that mean your avatar is thrown into some secret dungeon to fight their way out if you die? (Apparently not, though I’ve never hit the hospital button – willpower comes with a handy self-recharging rez. I could not have cherry picked a better self-sufficient class on these irritating trials.) Does that mean Tyrant regains health or gets better regen if people die near him? (Some people say yea, some say nay.)

We’re also supposed to “Keep Olympian Guards away from Tyrant.” I suppose that’s clear enough. But how near is near? And what does he do in conjunction with the Olympian Guards that we should be keeping him away from them? (My current theory is that he kills them to heal himself, but I don’t actually -know-. It’s not like you can see him do any animation with regards to them, nor is there any message. O_o)

Here’s a minor nitpick with the phase 2 Magisterium fight. We’re supposed to fight three Arch-Villains, Shadowhunter, Chimera, and Nega-Pendragon. All of them have a gimmick of some sort. One gets stronger if not fighting. One gets stronger and shields up as he continues fighting. One teleports all over the place, and also does a variant of “Marks For Death” that he uses to target a rain of arrows.

“Marks for Death” is a gimmick originally used by the Arch-Villain Maelstrom in the TPN Campus Trial.

As you fight him, a red target may appear above your head.

In case you are blinded by everything happening in your vicinity, because oh…I don’t know, particle effects, melee combat?

Helpfully, “Marked For Death” letters also appear on your buff/debuff status bar indicator, so you don’t have to squint at the sea of red targets to see if maybe one of those is above your head.

You have about 3-5 seconds to hop out of range, or get out of line of sight. Then this announcement happens:

Shortly after that, anyone still within range or LOS bites the dust. Note the many cues and set time interval to get away.

Now in the Magisterium trial, Chimera does this:

See the red targets? Ok. I’m targeted. I think. Note the lack of “Marked for Death” red letters in the status bar? What gives? You can do it in one trial, why not do it for the other?

So anyway, I know I am targeted because I can see the red target above my head, because I am not dumb. So I intuitively move away because the trial UI says “Chimera will rain arrows down upon marked targets!”

About 5-6 seconds later of cooling my heels, feeling uncomfortable because when I’m not in melee range, I’m not contributing, and feeling extremely dumb because no one else has moved away and nothing has happened, I realize that the trial UI is missing one very important cue. Just WHEN is this rain of arrows supposed to take place? You have timers for all sorts of things happening in trials, why did you forget this one?

So anyhow, feeling sheepish for trying to avoid a stacked rain of arrows, I move back in to join the others. THEN Chimera decides to shower down his rain of arrows, presumably one centered around each targeted player, and 7 out of 8 members of the team (including myself) fall over dead.

Right.

So much for partial cues.

You know, what really upsets me about this is the lack of consistency. It’s not like they don’t know how to do it. Look at the same trial UI for Shadow Hunter and Nega-Pendragon. Their gimmick is explained crystal clearly in words. “Shadow Hunter’s strength grows if out of combat!”- Translation: Keep him in combat. Ok, I understand that, let’s do it, done.

“Nega-Pendragon’s strength grows with each attack!” And they even bothered to show us his shielding come up, and his rage. (Though what use it serves, I’m not sure. It’s not like we can do very much about it besides pile on and kill as fast as possible, which we were already doing.)

For the record, I’ve managed the Magisterium trial successfully once. There were about 4 kinetics on the team, and everyone’s damage was buffed to gills. I was hovering at 200-400% damage bonus the entire trial. The lights came down very quickly, and we consistently level shifted for about 15-20 seconds. The length of time level shifted is critical to being able to do enough damage to Tyrant to defeat him, as his favor with the well appears to jump up as he loses health for whatever reason.

At all other times, and I think I’ve got 5 other attempts under my belt by now, the level shifts have not been consistently applied, due to some unknown reason. Lights either didn’t come down fast due to players not reacting fast enough – or there was some badly timed lowering of the lights (level shifts reset when the light timer ticks down to respawn) – or the level shifts are buggy and not working properly – I don’t know the actual reason, but there have been trials where my level shifts jump from 3 to 9 for 2 seconds, and then flicker back to 3, over and over. Two seconds is not a long enough interval to do any damage to Tyrant. And others where a level shift simply doesn’t happen at all.

This sort of guesswork can actually be mitigated with clear UI and in-trial explanations. We should not have to rely on wikis, and player spading, and player gossip/rumor/lectures in order to successfully understand what to do.

These two concepts are not the same thing: a fair and challenging trial, and one that is unfair in order to be challenging.

I think it’s pretty clear where my opinion stands on the current Magisterium trial.