TSW: Early AR/Blades Build Rework for Savage Coast

Speaking of specs, and back to a more normal tone of voice, I’m mildly thankful that I started detecting some problems with my first build while in The Savage Coast.

I hear Blue Mountain is the place most people get a cynical wake up call. I prefer to begin practising revising builds when things are not so critical and I can still gain AP and SP while questing around in the second zone.

I was putting it off because I was expecting to have to do a full and extensive speciality dps, heal, tank gear finding and new skills triple build rework. The situation got a bit critical when I kept wiping on a particular amusement park quest that had to do with surviving waves of things.

(In retrospect, I suspect proper positioning and lots of movement and running would have helped me survive it better, but it was a good excuse to look askance at my current build.)

The good news is that I discovered I could keep putting off the massive gear hunt and build rework to a later date. A bit of skill tweaking of active and passives was sufficient to improve performance in my current mix of 1-2 tank talismans and the rest DPS stuff.

(I haven’t experimented with healing gear yet, not decided on just how much self-healing I’d like to do. So far the large hp reservoir provides enough to get by on mob spawns while constantly doing damage, regen is quick when out of combat and there’s always a spare energy drink heal for emergencies.)

My current two weapons are Assault Rifles and Blades, and though I started from a ranged AR focus, more and more, I’ve been increasingly keen to just keep running in and chopping things up because the blade is such a meat grinder and I get a big kick out of seeing penetrating hits. I guess our preferences show in the end. I’m a melee person at heart.

Nothing like reworking your build while being entertained. The demon and the draug decided to have it out with each other because I didn’t want to play with either of them.

My first build was a sloppy mix of starting abilities from both the AR and Blade inner wheels. It sorta reflected a desire to do both single target (ST) and area of effect (AoE) damage, with the knowing tradeoff that I wouldn’t be healing, I would be glass cannoning. I previously had Anima Shot in at one point, but it felt so slow to run around kiting and Anima Shotting, and I gave it up to try and stack afflicted=>penetration synergy.

Actives

1) Safety Off – AR builder – ST burst damage
2) Fire at Will – AR finisher – AoE damage
3) Delicate Strike -Blades builder- ST damage
4) Blade Torrent – Blades builder with hate – AoE damage
5) Balanced Blade – Blades finisher – AoE damage
6) Dancing Blade – Blades finisher – ST channeled damage
7) Slow the Advance – AR elite – AoE ground-targeted damage with Hindered state

Passives

1) Extra Bullet – bonus bullet to Safety Off
2) Delicate Precision – bonus 10% penetration chance to Delicate Strike
3) Perfect Storm – Blade Torrent adds Afflicted DoT
4) Eagle Eye – 10% bonus AR damage
5) Sharp Blades – 10% bonus Blades damage
6) Dark Potency – Blood passive, improved penetration rating on appying Afflicted
7) Fluid Defense – When you receive a glancing blow, you gain 1 stack of the “Minor Ward” buff.  Whenever you make a Penetrating Hit you gain a buff that increases all damage by 5% for 10 seconds.

 

Okay, it’s a little sloppy on examination now, but it did fine in Kingsmouth. I basically had the capacity to attack from range with AR and apply AoE damage, kite as long as necessary, and then let mobs close in and finish them off with Blades, either AoE a group down, or the single target stuff.

I threw in the option to improve penetration for increased blade damage by spamming blade torrent (hate doesn’t matter if you’re alone) until the five buff stacks had accumulated and then change to single target as needed.

What this build was missing was any semblance of survivability.

Like the poor Draug.

So I went and found a suggested AR/Blades starting build to try out for comparison purposes – Aela’s My First 60 AoE and Survival Healing with AR/Blades. Bear in mind I’m barely 1/3 into the Savage Coast and just started in on the 9 AP outer wheel skills and leery of taking more without any focused plan. I’m leaning towards branching into one or two more inner wheel weapons to give myself more potential flexibility as I later hit Blue Mountain before going too deep into the outer wheel, honestly. So a “My First 60” build sounded more doable, rather than some uber endgame build.

Active Abilities
Blade Torrent (Blade)
Forking Paths (Blade)
Balanced Blade (Blade)
Stunning Swirl (Blade)
Fire at Will (AR)
Fire in the Hole (AR)
Anima Shot

Passive Abilities
Lick Your Wounds (Fist)
Perfect Storm (Blade)
Sharp Blade (Blade)
Expose Weakness  (Blade)
Anima Boost (AR)
Fluid Defenses (Blade)
Immortal Spirit (Blade)

Well, one problem was immediately apparent. I didn’t have enough AP for Forking Paths, but I went and put in all the other abilities and just left Delicate Strike in as a placeholder.

Testing it out on some convenient demons by the Overlook Motel, I liked the smidgen of extra survivability from the self-healing and Anima Shot, even without Forking Paths and without any healing focused gear. I also realized that Fire in the Hole was a very nice ST finisher I was missing from AR, though I found it disorientating to have to keep switching targets to alternate Fire at Will and Fire in the Hole. And that I liked Stunning Swirl a whole lot more than Slow the Advance.

Let’s face it, I’m a melee person. A slow is more useful for a primarily ranged kiter. The grenade AoE in Slow the Advance looked cool, but I wasn’t exploiting the Hindered state much. The Impaired state yields valuable survival time, and it was a convenient interrupt for any mob’s big attacks they were charging up.

I really missed doing sexy single-target damage though.

So I saved the above as an AoE build, pending Forking Paths for completion, and started tweaking.

They were really going at it.

I settled on the following for now, mostly because it’s what I have unlocked, and it lets me go crazy single-target meleeing, with the added bonus of a good single target finisher for AR, while still having basic AoE and ranged kiting options as a fall back plan. And it has some basic affliction=>penetration and impaired synergies.

Actives

1) Grass Cutter – Blades builder – ST damage, bonus damage to afflicted targets
2) Dancing Blade – Blades finisher – ST channeled damage
3) Anima Shot – AR only builder – ST damage, small heal leech
4) Blade Torrent – Blades builder with hate – AoE damage
5) Stunning Swirl – Blades elite – AoE damage, adds Impaired state for 3 seconds, useful interrupt
6) Fire in the Hole – AR finisher – ST damage, simulates delayed grenade, explodes after 2 seconds
7) Fire at Will – AR finisher – AoE damage

Passives

1) Immortal Spirit – HoT on penetrating hit
2) Expose Weakness – Improved penetration chance on applying Impaired
3) Perfect Storm – Blade Torrent adds Afflicted DoT
4) Anima Boost – AR leech boost
5) Sharp Blades – 10% bonus Blades damage
6) Fatal Flourish – Blades passive, improved penetration rating on appying Afflicted (Dark Potency is identical to this)
7) Fluid Defense – When you receive a glancing blow, you gain 1 stack of the “Minor Ward” buff.  Whenever you make a Penetrating Hit you gain a buff that increases all damage by 5% for 10 seconds.

 

The basic idea is to snipe with Anima Shot to build the AR combo (Blade already starts out a full 5/5) and dump Fire in the Hole to finish. The mob usually closes into melee range by this point. (For a ranged mob, you can continue sniping with these two skills and laugh maniacally and slowly wear it down while not being hurt much, thanks to the leech, or just close the gap when you’re bored.)

Dancing Blade to dump the 5/5 Blades combo. Then Blade Torrent to build up improved penetration rating stacks, and affliction and Stunning Swirl to mess with the mob’s big attack or just impair for the heck of it. Fire in the Hole to use up the AR combo, Dancing Blade to use up Blade combo, both of which will roughly finish at the same time amusingly.

Grass Cutter now for more damage, mixed with a Blade Torrent or two to keep up affliction and penetration stacks and the two finishers whenever necessary. Mob is usually dead before the grenade can hit.

For mob clumps, fall back on Stunning Swirl, spamming Blade Torrent and Fire at Will. Clean up remnants with single target damage.

Retreat and kite with Anima Shot and Fire in the Hole if really running out of hp, which can add a couple precious seconds of hanging on time, but not an endless amount. Supplement with a healing energy drink if thinking correctly and not in a panic.  Should have been running from such an awful mob in the first place if the health bar wasn’t denting initially on first contact.

So far so good in the Savage Coast. Should be able to tide me over picking up a couple more inner wheel stuff for another two or three weapons, and then I’ll maybe look back at the outer wheel stuff and think about what else can be upgraded and improved on as Blue Mountain approaches.

 

P.S. Rift Martyr 1. Draug 0.

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TSW: THAT Guy – A Soliloquy on Preferring to Solo

Self, I gotta question for you.

Go ahead, shoot.

Why is it that you’ve just spent the better part of an hour slicing and dicing these Goliaths into itty bitty pieces by your lonesome? Aren’t you sick and tired of repeating the same thing over and over?

Not really, no. Do ya see how easily I’m taking them down now that I spent half an hour reworking my build into something more efficiently survival-dps based? See how sexy it is to finish them off with my flashing chopping blade? I’m Slayer-ing them good.

I forgot to screenshot cos I was having too good a time, but I’ll let this Surf Hulk thing stand in for the Goliaths.

And the green crap that has been dropping is pretty spiffy, from a providing crafting raw materials perspective.

Who knows, maybe a blue will drop, you see that blue chaos focus (that I can’t use) that dropped and shocked me?

Maybe it’s a really rare chance, a jackpot chance that’s not likely to happen, or just bugged because of extra players in the vicinity, but I won’t know until I slice and dice a hunnerd of them or so, right?

Why don’t you just go to that Polaris dungeon I keep hearing about? You got that “Dead in the Water” quest sitting in your mission log like so much deadweight. I hear tell you can get blues in dungeons.

Well, self, I got lots of issues with grouping right now. And I’ve been thinking as I meditatively chop these hulks down to size, I’m thinking they all ultimately boil down to  “THAT guy” problems.

Huh?

First off, self, it’s not like I didn’t try. Look, I’ll show you, I got into a group, I got on board that damn plane, and I hit the instance. I lucked into one of the DPS slots, so I won’t touch on the holy trinity perception problem until later.

I think there was some kind of cutscene. About a ship, maybe. I don’t rightly know, I kinda blank out on any group-related storytelling because I’m too worried about the actual grouping mechanics and details and not dying horribly.

There was a guy there, he said he was gonna tank. There was another gal (who could be a guy) who was gonna heal. And two other DPS people. And me. So far, so good.

Then one of the DPS guys said he needed a sec, he was gonna respec and rebuild some stuff. Ok, no problems, it’s a new game, the first dungeon, a lot of us are all coming into this cold, let’s give him a minute for him to get set and ready.

The tank and I hadn’t done this before and said so. No worries, said the last DPS, I done this dozens of times, it’s nothing. Don’t worry, said the healer, I’m a dang good healer. We wait. And we wait some more. Then the healer accidentally aggros a patrol (oops, my bad, she says later. No problem, to err is human, after all) and the four of us jump it and hey, it’s really not so bad, this trash mob, quite easily killed and wowee, the xp is good.

We wander over to the first boss, and since it’s a boss, the tank says, we better wait for the last guy. We wait longer. And more.

Finally, there’s life down the group chat bar and he’s done. Where are you all, he says. Couple minutes later, he finally finds us. Woot, now we’re a team. Now we’re set to rock this joint and we charge the first boss. And straight away, the last DPS pulls aggro from the tank and he ends up the impromptu tank. Gee, the tank says, maybe you could have told me you were rebuilding to tank, and I coulda put some DPS into my build. There’s seriously no way I can pull this aggro back, I’m trying and it’s not working with the tools I got right now. The guy says nothing, just keeps pulling aggro.

Good thing the healer was right and she really was a damn good healer cos that DPS guy stayed upright, if at half health. I feel obliged to help out a smidgen with Anima Shot, which I tossed in by taking out my hate generating blade AoE because I didn’t want to be THAT DPSer guy who yanks aggro from the tank. Everybody stays alive, probably cos first dungeons are first dungeons for a reason and relatively forgiving.

We go through some bosses. There are a few mechanics to take note of. Don’t step in this or that. Burn adds down fast. That kinda thing. Self, lemme tell you something honestly.

What’s that, self?

I really hate that kinda group learning mechanics thing. Or at least, it’s been wearing down on me bad.

I did lots of group dungeons in Rift, because it was easy to get a Looking for Dungeon team with their tool, and at least I could queue as support, which is something that fits my psyche and after investing a couple hours reading guides and forums, respecing, following a template build and parsing, all of which were quite tedious, at least I was sure that I was contributing a satisfactory amount of damage and healing and I wouldn’t be shouted at for dragging the team down.

But the problem was that there were so many mechanics to learn and remember and perform to exacting standards, otherwise you wipe the whole team kind of deal, that I always had a dungeon guide/walkthrough sitting open in my other screen so that I was aware of the theory, even if complete learning had to be practiced by repeatedly doing. That kinda spoils the discovery aspect of the thing, you know? The joy of exploring and finding out that I like so much. But I don’t want to be THAT clueless guy running ahead into every damn trap the designers set up either. Because I’d look fucking stupid in front of a lot of other people.

It’s not like I’m so good at the game that I can perform well 90%, 100% of the time either. I’m probably a 50%-75% average to above average player, optimistically speaking. But you know what’s the biggest difference when I solo and when I group, self?

Hmm?

If I fail when I solo, it just affects me. I fall over and die. I respawn and gotta run back. Shit, I wasted my time, but it’s my own time to waste. I’m not screwing over other people.

Then there’s the locus of control. If I’m alone, it falls to me to examine what my problem is, to fix my spec, to experiment and try until it’s good and I’m killing the mobs and not vice versa. It feels good when I take myself from fail to success, cos I did it, my invested time to strategize a build and my skill hitting appropriate buttons at appropriate timings.

With other people, it’s not just a two dimension problem. Me fail or me succeed. The ideal is me succeed, they succeed. Then everyone’s happy and the dungeon is run at picture perfect speed with perfect execution, badabing badaboom. But then there’s me fail, they succeed. Which would make me feel really bad at being THAT guy.

Oh come on, you’re not that bad. Maybe you’re a 75/25 person, which is pretty good already.

Hell, self, even if the whole team was made up of 75% good people, we have an inherent problem. If two people succeed 75% of the time on their own, mathematically speaking, they got a 9/16 chance (or 56.25%) of both succeeding at the same time. If three people, then well, we’re looking at 3/4 x 3/4 x 3/4 or 27/64 = 42%. Five people, 23.7% chance that all will perform to perfection.

At other times, at least one guy is failing and the other people  have to compensate. Or the rare chance that everybody fails, at which point, they total party wipe. On the bright side, there’s no one to blame if everyone fails together. Otherwise, there’s always THAT guy who is screwing something up, somewhere, somewhen.

That’s just a bit aggravating to me. I don’t know why, but it is.  I know it doesn’t make logical sense, but emotionally, intuitively, that’s how I end up feeling on these things. Maybe I’m just reading a bit too much into it, but I do. I can’t help myself.

Anyhow, I was complaining about mechanics before I sidetreked into this. I did a lot of this in Rift. Realized I didn’t like it much. I did a lot of this in City of Heroes too, on Incarnate trials. Which was even worse because it was just way too many people to keep track of and overwhelmingly exhausting on one’s situational awareness. And those were just baby raids if that. I have no clue how people can stand it in games like WoW because it seems mathematically impossible that with 10, 15, 25 people, at least 3-5 people must be screwing shit up at any one point in time, the cat herding exercise is already blowing my mind in theory.

Well, maybe people put up with it because they want the shiny rewards at the end.

Self, I don’t really give two fucks about shiny rewards. Well, I do, just a little, but I got big issues with how they’re distributed, see.

Need/Greed systems always screw me over. Lemme tell you, self, I see a reward drop, I want it. Call me selfish, but that’s how I’m built. When I solo, I can get it all. Shit drops. I take it. It’s mine. It goes into my inventory. It’s clear cut and easy.

In a group, I gotta be mindful of the three or four other people with me. I gotta be polite. I gotta be courteous and build my rep, so I don’t look like an asshole that no one wants to group with ever again. I gotta share, and the way the crazy developers think is the fairest method of sharing, is for everybody to keep rolling individual dice rolls for individual items.

Self, I am crap at lotteries. The dice never go my fucking way. Every time I greed something, I never get it. Period. Probability already says I got a 80% chance of not getting it, if there’s five people all greeding it. That 20% chance? Doesn’t really happen for me. Some people are naturally a little luckier and I guess there’s the opposite to balance them off, and I’m it.

Well, that’s why they have the Need part of Need/Greed.

Right. The part that tests your speed reading skills when you have to mouseover the item real quick-like to see if maybe the stats are an improvement over what you’re wearing and make a snap decision as to whether you can legitimately Need it without folks shouting at you for being a ninja looting whore. I read fast, but I don’t like the stress and the pressure, thank you. And there’s usually someone else what Needs it too, and remember my sucktastic luck at dice rolling?

I end up more irritated than not if I run a dungeon expecting to get any loot out of it. I’ll be content enough just sightseeing. Makes me calmer and more Zen that way.

Okay, okay, I get it. So just go sightsee. What’s the problem? It’s a bloody MMO, innit? Mul-ti-play-er, they’ll keep stressing to you, cos yer being thick.

Self, I’m also lazy and I don’t like responsibility. I play a bloody MMO to have fun, for escapism and immersion purposes. And holy trinity group MMOs can go hang themselves.

I don’t heal. Don’t like it. Am shit at it. Playing whack a mole with green healthbars is not my idea of fun. Getting blamed or shamed for letting someone die cos their defences or hp sucks ass is ridiculously dumb and just makes my misanthropy levels rise further. All in all, not healthy and not my idea of a good time. So nix full healer-ing. That’s right out.

I confess, I half-like tanking. But tanking is a lot of work. You end up needing to find gear that is the equivalent of welding giant metal plates on yourself – great for withstanding hits and useless at doing anything else. And taking a lot of skills that are basically about you yelling your momma insults at the poor dumb mob. And you gotta know the dungeon cos folks expect the tank to lead them properly and not off a cliff or something equally stupid. Which is not great for first time experiences and winds up being a second job for an alt or some such.

So that leaves DPSing and hybrids thereof. Which nearly everyone and their momma is. Which means competition for spaces and slots and loot is fierce and you’re basically expendable and interchangeable. All of which also winds up reducing my enjoyment of the whole ‘grouping’ prospect.

The sad thing is, I don’t think The Secret World cleaves that tightly to holy trinity. I’m sure if City of Heroes can manage it, and if even Aion managed to get away with some flexibility, a heal/tank and 4 DPS/heal hybrids would do absolutely fine, among other blends and variations. But people are creatures of comfortable routine and habit and if holy trinity role specialization works, that’s what they’re going to stick with cos that’s what they know. And I don’t have four friends that constantly play at the same time who can tailor their builds to something so experimentally esoteric.

Anyway, self, there’s one more reason I’ve been holding back on joining another Polaris dungeon in The Secret World.

And what’s that?

You know that earlier story about the one and only group I joined? I ain’t told you the bitter end yet.

We got to the penultimate boss, which was all about burning adds at intervals and avoiding periodic aoe knockback or some such.

I shoulda stayed here assault rifling. But no, I had to go blade crazy on it cos everyone was melee’ing too.

Then I accidentally was a split second too late in avoiding the marking on the floor and I got knocked back. I got knocked back SO goddamn hard it crashed my client. It went beyond mere crashing. It literally hung my entire computer with the audio on a stalled loop.

I presume it’s really because I’m on a Win XP 32-bit system and memory issues were finally too much with the extra adds spawning that I got knocked into, but it was really sucky timing. I had to reboot the computer, and The Secret World loads like an oil tanker steers.

It took ten whole minutes to get back into the game, with my blood pressure shooting through the roof from the frustration and stress. Obviously, I loaded in face first, on the floor, out of the dungeon, and apparently back in my home dimension, out of group.

The team leader didn’t respond to my tells and I can’t blame them, really. Either they were madly fighting the last boss at the time, and/or they probably recruited another interchangeable DPS to make up the shortfall. I myself wouldn’t want to be hanging around waiting for the ten minutes it took for me to load in anyway.

See, so I ended up being THAT other guy too. (Through no fault of my own, but seriously, most THAT guys don’t do it on purpose, unless they’re griefers, right?)

Sheesh, you just can’t win, can you? You loser.

And that’s why I’m minding my own business over here by myself, harming no one but me and a bunch of electronic monsters. It’s a lot less annoying for everyone.

(Until the next time I decide I can put up with all the potential aggravation again, at any rate.)

TSW: To Roam, and Perchance to Linger

I begin to understand why Guild Wars 2 thought it necessary to create Renown Hearts in their zones and show 100% zone completion on the map. Although I find it detracts somewhat from the pure exploration and freedom to wander (as I’ve been occasionally guilty of falling back into Achiever mode and just running about to mechanically check off Points of Interest, Skill Points and Hearts), apparently, without them, folks had no clue when it was appropriate to leave for the next zone and consider the first zone ‘done.’

Theoretically, I’ve made it to the Savage Coast in The Secret World. But I can’t shake the obsessive feeling that I’m not done in Kingsmouth Town and keep wanting to head back.

Part of it is that I’m really not done with the quests. Men in Black Vans is paused on the last tier as it’s been buggy for a while – I hear it’s fixed and I should really get back to it.

Nor have I gotten around to doing the group quests Dead in the Water or the Polaris dungeon, mostly because I feel obliged to have semi-functional group role deck builds first. Haven’t gotten around to working that out, because my dps slightly-tanky mass AoE affliction>penetration AR/Blade solo build feels crazy fun like a City of Heroes scrapper.

You know what they say about “The bigger you are…”

I end most fights with half my health bar gone, but mass AoE death and a strong single target or two is so worth it to trade off survivability. I can foresee the same build immediately drawing aggro in a group dungeon and falling over dead, though.

The death animation for these guys is so cool, I could kill them all day. (Not every fight leaves me this bad off, but the dramatic blood halo made a cool screenshot.)

Then there’s the fact that I keep finding out there’s so much more depth to the one tiny zone. Syp tells us there’s crazy stuff to see when you’re dead and running about the spirit world. I haven’t seen that.

Secrets, endless secrets. How deep does the rabbit hole go?

And it totally wasn’t obvious that you could keep asking an NPC about the same topic repeatedly and they would say different stuff. I completely missed that for the first zone (and the intro faction zones.) I gotta go back and chat them up some more, dammit.

And there’s the whole human nature ‘comfort zone’ and ‘inertia’ thing. I’m familiar with the small town and the layout of all the stuff around it. There’s endless zombies to slay and I’ve finally gotten equipment and skills enough to handle them properly and with ease. I’m still getting xp, AP and SP.

Why do I want to leave for another bigger zone full of scary unknowns and mobs that are somewhat harder, which make me keep thinking that maybe I need to design a new build or three, need to craft more gear (but I don’t have sufficient raw materials, so I gotta grind somewhere) and generally overwhelm the to-do list (let’s not even talk about all the quest icons and NPCs I’ve been walking past in the Savage Coast, feeling OCD scream at me?)

The obvious answer is for the pretty screenshots. (Most of these I’ve been showing off are from the second zone.)

I have no clue how some people are in the third zone already and further. Either they did all their exploration already in prior betas, or they are skipping madly past lots and lots of things or they’ve figured out how to bend space and time to have 42 hours a day to play.

TSW: Quests That Make You Think

Having a good time in The Secret World with the plethora of innovative quests that don’t mind leaving the player stumped or running around in circles perfectly poised on the knife edge between frustration and conviction that the answer is here, somewhere, if only I could figure it out…

So what are these innovations that move TSW’s quests beyond the simple kill-X-whatevers, defeat-alls, click glowie objects, Fed-ex parcels back and forth and escort quests we see in every MMO out there?

All the above still exist in TSW, by the way. It’s just mixed with a good helping of the stuff below, which makes the story and quest path more interesting. So far, I’ve encountered:

(Minor spoilers follow. That is, you may find out that such-and-such type of quest exists, and I may allude to some methods of solution, but no direct answers or walkthroughs. If you want to be completely in the dark before playing the game yourself, then stop reading now.)

1) Pay attention to the scenery (I mean, the world)

It’s such a small thing, but what a world of difference it makes. Quests casually refer to places or things that are near another place and leave you to figure out where to go and where it is.

If you recognize the address of where some shop is, or some other notable landmark in town, you can head directly there feeling good that you know where things are in this world, rather than spend all your time following arrows and waypoints from the minimap radar.

TSW generally follows the LOTRO style of waypointing, where the waypoint chucks you at the ballpark area so that you’re not completely hung out to dry, and then leaves you to go and search the area however you like. More than once, I’ve had to do the casual version of a grid search across the entire highlighted area because the item I’m looking for is not terribly obvious.

Fortunately, they are kind enough to highlight important items in yellow if you get close to it, so that it does not devolve into a frustrating pixel hunt. (If you were masochistic enough, you have the option of turning it off. I wouldn’t dream of it.)

This style of quest encourages you to observe your surroundings more closely and generally pay attention to the world as a world, rather than pretty but unimportant scenic props.

In investigation quests, TSW doesn’t hold your hand at all. The easy-mode waypoints go dark. Hopefully you were paying attention on the earlier kinds of quests.

One memorable quest had me running in and out and around the Kingsmouth Church for a good half hour or so, ready to tear my hair out and taking it out on any nearby zombies that got in my way. I was supposed to find out what song was going to be sung on a particular Sunday, and it was baffling me good and proper. I kept talking to the pastor there, wondering if he had any clues in his dialogue. I kept looking for hymn books lying around on some convenient table. Nothing, nada, zilch.

This view does not contain what I was trying to find.

I was just about ready to start Googling for hints, when by chance, my camera angle shifted and I really -looked- at what was on my screen.

What I exclaimed was not fit to be said in that church.

In retrospect, it was obvious, and it fit. Which is the best kind of adventure game puzzle solution.

2) Follow the Trail of…

Blood (a perennial favorite,) dirt, even metal traps.

Or Illuminati signs. This shows up in the intro tutorial, so you immediately get a sense of the kinda place this is going to be.

Again, it’s a simple thing, but it feels good. It’s like you get to play really simple CSI and follow the red blood splatters until you get somewhere.

For some quests, the trail in question is phased in. For other quests, the trail has always been there, embedded into the scenery you keep running past without a second glance.

(This ain’t completely new. I’ve seen Runescape do it specifically for certain quests/skills that require tracking animal tracks. For all I know, there are other MMOs who do stuff like this for footprints or whatever. But we need to see more of it, because it’s something else to do besides just follow the waypoint dotted track that has no real existence in the world. )

A very neat touch and more advanced spin on this type of quest is the Siren’s Song in the main story quest. Trigger an item, and your view changes, including a waypoint path that you have to follow. Except this waypoint path represents the song you are hearing being sung. The audio also sends atmospheric chills up your spine, in a good way.

Dooo doooo…. La lala la lalala…

3) Find the Safe Path (or ANY path at all)

Sort of a variant on the jumping puzzle, just less vertical and with a touch more lateral thinking. Bunch of scary red lasers, or piles of green radioactive goo or electrocuted water in your way. How are you going to get from here to there?

The same question and challenge also applies to awfully high items that you can’t reach, or things that sit around taunting you with a fence/barrier blocking your way

How the heck do I get in there?

Kind of a more sophisticated version of the thing you do in City of Heroes when you get to the waypoint and can’t find the mission door because it’s either above or under you.

4) Riddles

Obscure wordplay. ‘Nuff said. Pretty fun, but I am a wordy kind of person.

LOTRO also dabbles with these.

5) Triangulate to a Location

Seriously, wow. I was NOT expecting any other MMO than A Tale in the Desert to make me even attempt triangulation (lemme tell you about frog catching in ATITD some other time.)

You get a radar thingummy. It pings more frequently and beeps louder as you get warmer and closer to the desired location. Figure it out.

Ping! Ping ping! Ping…

Fortunately, the location was nearby and I didn’t have to do any coordinate calculations unlike *ahem* a certain other sandy MMO, which was good, cos I hate math.

6) Solve Morse Code

*@#@)!*

I confess, this one defeated me. I am naturally as far from an auditory learner as you can get. Anything that requires me to pay attention to sounds, memorize them and their rhythms, and replicate them is going to kick my ass.

I gamely tried to pause the visualization and go frame by frame to decode it, but the poor UI controls in the game frustrated me to no end. Nor did looking up a Youtube recording of it help, even though I could rewind and fast forward. I got as far as three letters, garbled up by an extra imaginary dot where there should be nothing, threw up my hands and started Googling for help.

I even tried downloading an automatic Morse Code decoder as suggested by a forums-goer, but was stumped by all the technical audio references and terms in the program, and also discovered my seldom-used mic was definitely not working.

(I was, however, quite impressed as to the ingenuity of the other puzzle solvers. This sort of program use harkens back to my MUD days, where some of us would indulge in ‘cyborging’ – my term for the use of such programs to help a human solve these kinds of quests at a much faster rate than manually puzzling it out. I still know where to go for anagram and cryptogram solvers, fer instance.)

So I eventually cheated via Google-fu and found some kind person who had spilled the answer to this puzzle online.

I don’t feel a speck of guilt for doing this though. It’s up to each player to choose the difficulty level they desire. This is still an MMO, and the ‘multiplayer’ component has to play a part somewhere.

Sure, maybe we’ll get to a point where an expansion is released and no one knows the answer to some new mysterious investigation quest or ARG that just launched. Then I’ll be glad to pool my mental power with that of everyone’s in trying to puzzle it out together.

Ultimately, we are living in the age of an interconnected global mind by courtesy of the internet. It would be foolish not to harness its power.

P.S. For anyone who still has not encountered this amusing Zahada riddle website yet, feel free to enjoy doing stuff similar to (or slightly harder than) what The Secret World is asking of its players right now. You may thank me for wasting a week of your time later.

(Our workplace lost about that much productivity time when we found it and attempted solving it together.)

TSW: Decision Made, See You in a Few

Days, that is, not months.

I have just pre-ordered The Secret World.

Reserved a name (though not the one I was using in the Beta and would have been thrilled to have – damn fast people!)

Presumably being this late, early access for me may be only 24 hours, but whatever, it’s not a biggie and I’m not a rush-to-endgame type.

So what got me off the see-saw?

I mean, there were quite a number of good reasons why I should delay getting the game.

There’s still plenty of bugs and some instability, which would benefit from more time and more fixes, yielding a more polished final experience for myself.

The graphics aren’t as great as they could be if I waited for myself to buy a new computer first. (I would be spoiling myself for maximum potential impact for the cutscenes, as that would only be achieved on beautiful ultra-settings AND being new and novel on a first playthrough.)

The game would likely get cheaper – all games are at their most expensive when hyped just before their launch – and maybe even go free to play at some point.

The game could be missing content in the higher leveled areas we haven’t seen – it’s obvious Funcom is rushing this launch (maybe thanks to their EA overlords.)

Or pull a bait-and-switch on us later in terms of story and quest quality (neither of which is new given the prior precedent set with “Failcom” in Age of Conan.)

The PVP is extremely dubious at present (and is likely to remain so for at least a while) in terms of team balance (Templar was dominating on one server and Illuminati on another…)

…and skill design (you can’t reset AP/SP for PvP, so in the early days at least, a PvE solo build is going to get owned by someone who prioritized a PvP build over PvE. And PvP/PvE skills are not unlinked – can you say inevitable nerf outcry?)

Whatever would possess me to think it is a good idea to go play TSW like… now? (Almost.)

Mostly I read Ragnar Tornquist’s AMA on Reddit (you can scroll down to narwal_bot’s summary of the questions he answered), and started thinking about some of the things he said.

If you read his answers, there is a general gist that he acknowledges that there’s still stuff missing in TSW at launch, and that they’ll like to be putting more in post-launch.

Here’s the stuff that made me think:

(Some extraneous comments trimmed for clarity, see the link if you want the jokes and the thanks and feedback)

Question (TBTakaTBT):

What is the biggest thing you don’t like about the game in its current state? What would you like to see done to make it better?

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

Not enough kilts BY FAR.

There are things we would have liked to do for launch — including an LFG tool and more character customisation options — that we’ve pushed to post-launch, but the great thing about making an MMO is that you actually get to go back and fix, add to, polish and expand upon the original game.

The Secret World isn’t done simply because we’re launching it. This is only the beginning. The beginning of a long– No, not doing that.

Question (batlib):

What’s your ideal post-release roadmap for TSW? Or does that fall under “saying things people will interpret as a promise and burn you at the stake for later”?

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

I enjoy a good burning at the stake.

My ideal post-release roadmap? New content and new features on a regular, ongoing basis. Which is what we’re aiming for. We’ll let you know very soon what that actually means.

Commence the burning!

Question (karmaleenash):

  1. I get no sliders, etc. for cc but new heads by launch?
  2. New skin tones to get away from the ethnically stereotyped tying of facial type to skin tone?
  3. New hairstyles and colors by launch?

Not asking for the moon, here. Love the game. The creepy, eerie, lovely world deserves some better characters. To me, that cc is the weakest link in a game that has more potential than any I have played in years.

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

  1. No new heads for launch, but that’s definitely something we want to do in the not-too-distant future.
  2. I don’t think we’ve gone for anything stereotypically ethnical — we’ve simply tried to find skin tones that match the heads. But we will take all of your feedback under consideration.
  3. Nothing that isn’t in the public Beta right now. Again, we will be expanding on our character customisation options going forward.

Question (mflash):

Are there plans for a continued storyline after the game is released?

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

YES! Definitely yes. We have a pretty massive storyline planned, and our writers are working on fleshing that out as we speak. Well, not literally, it’s Saturday and they’re done with their work for launch, so they’re taking a rare weekend off, but you know what I mean.

Question (CrazyStreetBum):

I vaguely remember from the old days of the Internets, back when Anarchy Online was still in beta, that you had planned a four-year storyline for the game.

How much of that storyline actually happened? I know that at least part of Shadowlands was foreshadowed back in Prophet Without Honour (assuming that the Vanya in the books is the Unredeemed of the same name), but the part about Omni-Tek having ties to the Omega (among other story hooks) seems to have largely vanished.

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

Plans and stories change as new people start working on it — and that’s how it should be. When I left Anarchy Online (in very capable hands, mind you) the writers and designers, together with the community of players, decided to take things in a different direction. And I’m totally fine with that. They made something even greater…although a tiny part of my brain keeps nagging me to go back and tell the story that I’d planned out.

With The Secret World, however, we have built such a deep, solid and complex storyline into the very fabric of the game — every little detail MEANS SOMETHING — so whoever takes the reins in some distant, post-apocalyptic future (where I’ve become a grizzled, leather-clad warlord and am no longer working on the game) will have to follow through on our SEVEN YEARS OF STORY CONTENT (TM) plans. Otherwise it all falls to pieces. Jigsaw pieces. Being part of this enormous jigsaw puzzle of a story. As it were.

Question (buemba):

Any plans to expand the TLJ/Dreamfall universe with comics, short stories or anything else that doesn’t demand as much development time as games?

As for Secret World, what’s the game like post level cap? Raids?

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

No concrete plans, but that’s certainly something I’ve been wanting to do. I’ll think about it again after my body and brain becomes capable of thinking about anything besides TSW.

There are no levels in The Secret World, but you can keep training new abilities and learning new skills, you can participate in PvP, explore the world in search of lore and achievements, replay missions, visit our lairs and fight our world bosses — and get to grips with all the post-launch content we’ve got planned.

You won’t run out of things to do.

Question (Warskull):

So… Age of Conan was very buggy and unfinished. In fact at least 6 months in a number of huge bugs were still around (stats literally did nothing ffs.) Anarchy Online was also famous for having an incredibly buggy, unfinished launch. Why should anyone expect The Secret World to be finished? What has changed at Funcom?

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

Both of those games came out a long time ago, and were made by different teams. Will there be bugs in The Secret World at launch? Oh, for sure. It’s impossible for us to catch and fix absolutely everything. We’ll keep patching and fixing the game on an ongoing basis. But there won’t be any bugs that will detract from the fun of playing, and it will be the most polished game Funcom has ever released.

[Me interjecting: Oh that’s for sure. Not that Anarchy Online or Age of Conan are the best comparative examples, but definitely TSW is better than those.]

Question (VideoGameMusic):

Can you give some insight if possible on how Funcom manages their franchises? I was a huge fan of Bloodline Champions but that game’s player base died out pretty fast once they stopped advertising for it. Will The Secret World end up only being alive past the two or three year mark?

Also, will TSW have a freemium system like most Funcom games?

Thanks in advance for any answers.

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

Anarchy Online is still going strong, eleven years and counting. Age of Conan is on its fourth year. So yeah, I’d say it’s a safe bet we’ll be alive and well past the three year mark. We take care of our franchises.

[Me interjecting: With a small playerbase, but yes, they don’t close up shop as quickly as some other companies might.]

Question (whyufail1):

I completely agree, but the contradiction I see here is that there is a MASSIVE cash shop planned as well. I honestly prefer subscriptions to pay for continuous development, but the cash shop placed on top of that just seems like double dipping (paying a sub to develop content that is then being sold back to me…). You can say “well that content is being developed outside of the subscription budget” but without transparency, you could really say that about anything. It’s the biggest thing keeping me from trying this game at the moment.

(I am actually bringing this up for a reason. If there is a convincing enough explanation as to why I shouldn’t feel like the community is getting ripped off, I would be buying into the game immediately as I approve of nearly everything but the payment model. I’m honestly not just trying to be difficult.)

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

Our item store sells cosmetic (vanity) items only, in addition to services like extra character slots and dimension transfers. The production of those cosmetic items is, in fact, supported by the revenue from the store — it does cost a bunch of money to make things like clothing outfits and pets. Good thing is: you don’t have to spend a dime in the item store if you don’t want to. There will be plenty of clothing added to the game post-launch, so unless you’re really keen on that cowboy outfit (yeeha!) you can safely leave the store alone.

Question (Zhaosen):

Hi, hello. First thing, i am 50/50 on the game atm. My biggest influence is how character customization will be handled. You answered it earlier i believe about how you plan to add more character customization in the future and i just want to focus on that.

1.Can you elaborate/give an idea to how the future character customizations will be? (ie: more sliders, presets, hair, etc…weight/height?)

2.Will there EVER be a dye option? because frankly…i dont really want to end up looking like someone else =/…and ive already seen about 4 of me running around in the beta (which is not bad all things considered but still).

3.Clothing options, will you only add stuff as microtransactions or will you also be updating the ingame buyable ones as well?

I’m honestly on the fence about preordering or just waiting for a month after.

Answer (RagnarTornquist):

We actually had this discussion over lunch yesterday, so, informally:

  1. More sliders, more presets, more hair — yes, for sure.
  2. That’s something we’re going to look into, long-term. Clothes-crafting would be awesome. That might even get ME to start crafting, and that’s saying a lot.
  3. We are DEFINITELY going to be updating our in-game vendors on a regular basis. We’ll be making at least as many clothes for the vendors (purchasable with PAX) as we will for the item store — although the latter does support the cost of producing new clothing. It ain’t cheap.

Honestly, the more people buy and play the game at launch, and let us know what they/you want, the more we can deliver. If everyone waits with playing, we won’t be able to produce nearly as much as we’d like to — and we’ll always listen to our players first and foremost.

Bolded emphasis mine. And that’s the phrase that slid me down the see-saw.

Let’s face it. We don’t know how much of what Ragnar says is just pretty words and smoke and mirrors like Paul Barnett’s “Bears bears bears.” He might just decide six years of slaving away on TSW is more than enough conspiracy crap for one individual and run off to make the Longest Journey 3 or something else. (Which would make some people happy, but not me, sorry, I’m a heathen, I haven’t been able to get back to that game since I encountered one of -those- “forgot to take an important item at the start” gamebreaking adventure game bugs.)

But I do know what I like. And I like The Secret World’s modern day occult underground setting. The immersiveness. The voice-acting. The characters. The stories. (More so than the vapid cartoony mainstream pap that is SW: TOR.)

Missions that treat the player as being smart and intelligent. Missions that involve stealth and research and clues and puzzles. A combat system that involves both movement and active reaction, as well as build planning for synergies and the flexibility to change and adapt builds and tactics on the fly.

It makes me excited to hope that maybe, just maybe, some of that seven years of planned story content will actually come to pass. Maybe there will be more ARGs. Maybe there will finally be an MMO that does world-changing story arcs right.

Most of me is a pragmatic realist and a cynic beyond that eternal optimist core though. It probably won’t happen. The odds are against The Secret World beating the odds.

But if enough people don’t support it, now, at launch, it has no chance at all.

( I have made no secret of the fact that I appreciate an MMO that innovates and does things differently than being a typical WoW clone. I will put my money where my mouth is. Even if all I get is thirty days of the existing storyline experience, it’s at least worth the box price to support the devs having worked for years to give us that look at the secret world.)