The Demon Hunter Starting Experience Is Wonderful

Demon Hunter is the newest Hero class in World of Warcraft and their starting experience offers a unique and compelling story experience. In fact I’d say this new starting area story is even better than the Death Knight starting experience. Obviously there will be story spoilers ahead, but I’ll try to keep them at a minimum. It’s pretty impossible to discuss this without any spoilers.

The Demon Hunter story-line picks-up, in the past, as the attack on The Black Temple begins. In fact I think what we see is the fight in the training grounds which leads to Supremus. Illidan sees all of this happening and sends a group of his Illidari off to retrieve a Sargerite Keystone. This keystone is apparently super important to defeating the Legion. I love the concept of this happening while we were raiding The Black Temple.

Desktop 8-10-2016 9-17-28 PM-232We earn our skills from completing various quests and killing specific demons and stealing their power… which is a fantastic mechanic as a Demon Hunter. Previously this system seemed fairly arbitrary and it never really related content of the quest with obtaining abilities before. It’s wonderful to see this concept folded into the story much more smoothly. It also played up how the entire reason Demon Hunters exist is to defeat the Legion.

One of my favorite aspects of the starting zone is the inclusion of a couple of spots where the player has a choice to make. The first one is during the “Enter the Illidari: Shivarra” quest. You need need to either sacrifice yourself or Sevis Brightflame (who you’ve been working with for a bit) to power a portal and bring in some much needed allies. I was quite surprised we could volunteer to die. If you do sacrifice yourself, Illidan will talk about how you are similar to him and have an immortal demon soul. Nice to have an explanation of why the player can’t truly die. Either way the choice isn’t a huge one but it was really nice to be able to make it.

Desktop 8-10-2016 9-22-11 PM-88The second choice will color the rest of the the Demon Hunter experience throughout the expansion. We have to pick either Kayn Sunfury or Altruis the Sufferer as your second in command of the Illidari. This is an interesting choice especially for people who played during Burning Crusade and met Altruis previously. They represent the choice between having faith in someone/something and trusting your own judgement above all else.

Kayn Sunfury, perhaps the more “boring” of the two options, is someone who always stayed loyal to Illidan. We first encounter Kayn right after entering Mardum and he’s the main questgiver. He cares about duty and honor and trusts Illidan implicitly… which is a bit disturbing. He’s an interesting character though and it’d be nice to interact with him more. Also worth noting if you pick Kayn as your second in command you’ll end up with the Shade of Akama, instead of Akama, as part of the Illidari.

Desktop 8-10-2016 9-22-50 PM-849For my money Altruis the Sufferer is much more interesting. Players from the Burning Crusade will remember him from a questline in Nagrand. His story is he felt Illidan had succumbed to the influence of the fel and didn’t trust Illidan’s judgement anymore. He didn’t stop there though. As a direct result of his interactions with us four Illidari are killed. So it’s a pretty extreme example of betrayal. Altruis stands by his choices as he didn’t agree with Illidan at all.

Altruis being the in the jail with me was really surprising. There seemed to be no good reason for him to be locked up. The Wardens just decided to jail him right along with all the other Illidari. I wish I could have a conversation with Maiev about how that happened. It’d probably just be something like “all beings with fel are a danger” which would be super disappointing. It just seems sort of messed up to jail him along with everyone else.

I also have to mention the Pool of Remembrance which starts a fantastic cutscene about what it means to be a Demon Hunter. It’s quite interesting but It also reminded me of why the whole “victory at any cost” mantra is incredibly troubling. Unfortunately, it really did nothing to help me make a choice between Kayn and Altruis. In the end I went with Altruis because the concept of having blind faith in anyone is just disturbing to me.

After losing Gul’Dan, Khadgar shows-up to take us to the appropriate capital city. I expected to arrive right before the Broken Isles Scenario. Instead we arrive right after the events of the Broken Isles and we are the one who informs the leaders about the infiltration of the Legion. I mean how weird would it be if a different Illidari showed-up to say the Horde/Alliance have been infiltrated? It’d be super weird and I’d feel dumb for not using my spectral site to check.

I also need to take a moment to recognize how awesome the voice acting in this entire section is. I was consistently impressed, especially by Gul’Dan’s VO. Everyone sounded authentic and compelling which is just about the best thing.

Overall it’s a fantastic experience with a new class and I honestly couldn’t stop playing once I started because I was enjoying it all so much. World of Warcraft has really up’ed their game with the Demon Hunter starting experience. If you have interest in the story at all you should play through this content at least once.

This Carrot Is Looking A Bit Moldy

It’s no secret many MMOs lock desirable things behind content, it’s a normal practice and not inherently a bad thing. However, after the recent 6.2 patch for World of Warcraft the carrot which is being dangled for me is looking less and less worth the effort. The whole concept of forcing players to do different types of content just to be able to be fully prepared for the content they want to do is a bit ridiculous.

First let me give some brief personal history so you can understand where I am coming from on this issue. I started playing wow back February of 2005, at first I was just focused on PvP but I switched to raiding after attaining the Commander rank. I kept actively raiding through every expansion except MoP. I was never in a World First guild or anything crazy like that, but I do enjoy raiding and theroycrafting a lot.

Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry were both raids I enjoyed a bunch, though I like Highmaul a bit more but that might be due to just getting back into raiding again. I didn’t mind doing garrison missions as they seemed to have mostly taken the place of doing dailies, which is something I appreciated. In general I don’t usually like doing dailies very much as there are normally other things I’d rather spend my time on, so being able to send followers out to do those things instead was awesome. Plus finding followers through questlines and dungeons was also a ton of fun. Gave each of them a backstory I could relate to and I felt a bit of attachment to them.

Given all of that you might be thinking I love the shipyard… well you’d be wrong about that. Shipyards have so many issues for me it’s hard to know where to start. I’m not a fan of how completely separated shipyards are from the rest of the garrison. It makes me feel like all my hardwork with my followers was completely pointless. Sure I still send them out for oil. gold, and garrison resources but that’s about it, most of my followers now stand around idle with not much to do. I don’t even feel like there was much point to getting them to 675 ilvl at this point.

Failed a 93% chance mission and lost a ship -_-

Failed a 93% chance mission and lost a ship -_-

The really sad thing is most of my ships also sit around idle with nothing to do. The problem is if a mission is failed there is a chance to lose a ship. The goal of this risk was probably to make succeeding feel much better and to add a bit of excitement. Unfortunately what it does is add a ton more stress and frustration. Losing any ships feels bad but losing an epic ship or a ship with a buff you don’t have on other ships is especially painful. Also losing ships on missions with a 90%+ chance to succeed feels exceedingly punitive.

To mitigate this I have started sending out my ships on missions only if the percent chance is at least 70%, though I know others who don’t send ships out on missions with less than 90% chance to succeed. The upshot is we are severely slowed in progressing through the Legendary Ring quest, which is the only reason I am doing any of the shipyard stuff in the first place. Sure I could be more cavalier about it and just send my ships out on all the missions… but holy crap that would be expensive in terms of resources and would mean having to do even more of the Taanan Dailies.

As I mentioned earlier I don’t generally like doing dailies very much. I’ve slogged through the rep grinds and dailies in all the expansions and at this point I can’t help but wonder why this is a thing. I’m not practicing skills useful for raiding by doing these dailies, I’m pretty much for the most part just out running around on my own which is completely different than raiding. I’m just doing random quests to get oil or rep for things I need for my shipyard just so I’ll have a chance of succeeding at the legendary ring quests.

It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed daily areas in the past. Molten Front dailies were interesting because the story involved with them was rather interesting. I was more personally invested in it and the payoff with the storyline was well worth it. The Argent Crusade was a ton of fun because it was completely different than anything in other parts of the game. I’ve reached the point in WoD where I just don’t care about the story anymore and the quests are just more of the same. Which is sad considering heading in I was really into it and the payoff in Nagrand was awesome. Sort of funny though Gul’dan is now a problem… Like it wasn’t obvious letting him go in the beginning was a bad idea.

I don’t mind having rewards being gated behind doing things, after all that’s the basis for most games. What I do mind is having a reward which is only useful in one sort of content gated behind doing completely different unrelated content. It’s almost like requiring PvE people to take part in PvP just so they can remain competitive (or vise versa). The Legendary Ring is only really useful for raiding, sure it can be used outside of raids but its effects are minimal in those settings. Of course I could get into a whole thing about how legendaries are being done now… but that’s a whole different post.

The only argument I’ve heard for having the legendary ring quest be tied to the shipyard and doing things in Taanan Jungle is if they weren’t tied together no one would do them. Well that’s the point isn’t it? If the only way certain content will be done is to tie highly desired things behind doing it, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the content. I mean yes, locking raiding gear behind non-raiding PvE stuff is one way to get all of your raiders participating in the content… it is the easiest answer. But come on Blizzard, you can do better than that.

Going back to the subject of Taanan Jungle for a minute, mob tapping and racing for resources is so ten years ago. There have been improvements, sharing rares and some of the harder mobs is a thing and it’s great. I know I can start attacking one of the gronn in the Iron Front and multiple people will automatically help. That’s great, why are we still fighting over the other things? It’s much nicer to see other people out in the world and want to help them as opposed to having to worry about people being jerks and taking an objective from you while you are killing a mob. Honestly this would be a huge QoL improvement which would personally make me much less annoyed about trying to get stuff done out in the world.

Anywho, that’s where I am on things with WoW right now. raiding things should deal with raiding things, out in the world things should be out in the world and don’t try to strong arm people into doing content they aren’t interested in.

Blizzard Hitting All The Right Notes With Warlords Of Draenor

Originally posted on Gamebreaker on Nov. 18th 2014.

Warlords of Draenor has been live for a few days now, and it seemed like a good time to take stock of how everything is going. Having spent a fair amount of time in both the Alpha and Beta I expected the first hour or so of gameplay to be pretty boring. I have been pleasantly surprised in this regard.

I should warn you, that although I am going to stay away from any major spoilers I will be talking about things which occur in questlines and as such there will be minor spoilers. It should also be noted that since I played the Alliance side, any zones or persons mentioned will be related to that.

bannerTanaan Jungle

The questline for Tanaan Jungle is very straightforward and linear, which is why I originally planned to just push through it as fast as possible. I had gone through the questline in Alpha/Beta and already had a general understanding of what should happen. However, there are a several short cinematics sprinkled throughout the zone that really help to both lighten the mood and draw players into what is going on.

One fantastic moment occurs right at the beginning as we are about to go through the Dark Portal for the first time. Maraad and Thrall are fighting through the orcs and doing a great job of it. Then as an orc emerges from the portal Thrall kicks it in the stomach returning it back from whence it came. It was simultaneously a hilarious moment and a “yea way to be a badass, Thrall” moment. Especially nice to see after watching Thrall get his butt kicked by Garrosh for months.

Additionally, every time we meet one of the warlords we get a close up of the warlord and, hilariously their name written in big golden letters so you know exactly who you are meeting. It is a bit campy, but it also is nice to see them get those moments right upfront. In addition, it assists people who don’t know the lore so well put names to the orcs, and each clip is only a few seconds long.

Garrisons

I knew going into WoD that Garrisons we’re going to be something I really enjoyed, but apparently the fact the game is officially live now made it even more enjoyable. I had planned out my entire Garrison before launch right down to when I was going to build the things and when I’d switch out buildings for other buildings. Even so I was a quite excited to build my Barracks and get my first follower. I’m trying really hard not to think of Followers as Pokemon.

One thing I’d really like to see added to Garrisons is an expansion to the Armory mobile app that will allow us to manage our garrisons even when we can’t login. Being able to send followers on missions, or build buildings remotely would be a huge bonus. The basic in-game interface is very similar to a webpage already, so ideally they could build it into the website.

banner2Profession Improvements

I really really dislike leveling professions, it’s the one aspect of MMOs which tends to annoy me often. Going into Warlords of Draenor I was really happy with the change to gathering professions which gives players the ability to collect from any node regardless of profession level. That was a huge Quality of Life (QoL) change. This only left me really having to slog through leveling Jewelcrafting.

Due to time and money restrictions I had only managed to get my Jewelcrafting up to 379. So I had prepared myself for the fact I was likely going to either spend a ton of gold to buy materials, or I was going to have to go back to old zones and do a lot of farming.

However, pretty quickly after arriving in Shadowmoon Valley I looted a scroll which said it would teach me to make Draenor Jewelcrafting items. It didn’t have a profession level requirement, so I went ahead and used it figuring at least I’d have the ability when I got my Jewelcrafting to a higher level. I was pleasantly surprised to see I could use the new Draenor mats immediately to level up my profession.

No going back to old zones. No buying tons of things on the auction house to make tons of things I’d never use and couldn’t sell because no one else wanted them either. I could just start increasing my Jewelcrafting now with the new ore I was getting. This also made me decide I am definitely going to swap out mining for Enchanting after my mine is built. Oh happy day.

Queues, Crashes, DCs, and All The Lag!

Warlords of Draenor definitely had a bit of a bumpy launch. Queues were extreme, in many cases the seeing a queue of over 1k was not unusual. While it isn’t unusual to see queues during an expansion launch these seemed much longer than they normally have been.  I can’t help but wonder if maybe all the realm linking Blizzard has been doing over the last year sort of exacerbated the problem. With the return of many previous accounts I could see how it could possibly overload things, of course we don’t know how many people waited until just before launch to reactivate their account. Either way Blizzard acted swiftly to make improvements and get people in game much more quickly.

Once players did get in game there were a lot of problems with lag in the world and getting to various parts of it. Players often ended up either unable to get to their Garrisons or unable to leave. No matter which side you were on it was frustrating. Blizzard did some maintenance on Friday and Saturday to help with these issues and for the most part they seemed to have gotten most things under control. Of course everything isn’t perfect, as I write this I am unable to hearth into my Garrison.

Some of the problems on launch day weren’t really Blizzard’s fault, someone decided to be “cool” and DDoS them, which was a real drag for everyone. On the upside Blizzard is giving everyone 5 days of free sub time which does take the sting out of the problems for many, though it doesn’t really help people who were planning to go for server firsts in leveling.

flyingOverall Warlords Is Amazing

Like I mentioned previously, connection issues are consistently getting better and servers are pretty stable at this point. There’s no reason to believe Blizzard won’t continue making improvements and making the overall experience better. At this point I’m ready to just kick back and enjoy the expansion. I am also wholeheartedly enjoying not having to rush to get raid ready in time for the first week of raiding. Here’s to hoping we have 3-4 weeks after every expansion launch before we need to get to raiding!

What Classifies A MMO As Successful?

A few months ago at a Media and Telecom Conference in New York Take-Two Interactive’s Chairman Strauss Zelnick commented on how they are pursuing online gaming and MMOs they just aren’t doing it in the US because MMOs don’t work here. To put some context on this Take-Two is known for games like Grand Theft Auto, BioShock, and Red Dead Redemption, so they aren’t exactly slouches when it comes to video games. I’ve had some time to really mull over my thoughts and feelings on this topic, so here is a consolidation of the most important points.

This is his exact quote:

We’re actively investing in online and MMOs, we’re just not doing it in the U.S. MMOs don’t work here. A couple of our competitors have found out that through very, very expensive lessons… at any given time 10 to 20 are successful in China and generating revenue.

There are a few weird things going on with this statement. The first and obvious question, why is he only thinking about the US and Chinese markets? I don’t know about everyone else but I sure know a lot of European and Canadian people who play MMOs, not to mention all the South Koreans who are also part of the larger Asian market. Maybe he just overlooked the rest of the MMO gaming world and happened to mention just the US and China. I really hope he didn’t intend to lump all the Asian countries in with China, and I REALLY hope he wasn’t intending to lump the rest of the world in with the US.

To support his claim Zelnick followed up by saying “How many MMOs have been successful in the U.S.? Two. World of Warcraft and EverQuest.” Now there is no arguing Everquest and World of Warcraft definitely are examples of successful games, but they certainly aren’t the only two. Eve Online is not only a successful subscription MMO but it also has been consistently growing throughout it’s lifespan (something WoW actually can’t claim). Another very successful subscription game is Ultima Online, and these are just two examples off the top of my head.

Additionally if you consider the fact he picked two sub based games it seems like for him the definition of success is having a sustaining and profitable subscription model. That’s a perfectly fine way to model success. It makes it even stranger he wouldn’t include Eve Online if that is his measure of success. It boggles my mind to consider how anyone can consider Eve Online to be anything but a success.

However, if that’s how he wants to define success then his choice of using China as an example of where MMOs are more often successful is really strange because the dominant model for MMOs in China is free to play. It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges, especially when there are certainly more than two successful US MMOs if we include free to play and buy to play games.

Which brings us to the whole debate about how to judge the success of MMOs. With games like Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic transitioned to free to play models does that automatically make them failures? Reportedly SWTOR has been doing better now after the addition of f2p than it was before, so it could be viewed as a success. However, the fact they had to change their model definitely can be argued as a failure. The same thing goes for Rift. Ever since they transitioned over the game has been booming, but I can see the argument for having to change at all being a failure. I am still not sure I would class either as a failure overall though.

If you start looking at free to play or buy to play games it can get even harder to tell what a success is since you can’t go off sub numbers. Guild Wars 2 has said a few times their gem store sales more than cover their costs and they have the most aggressive content schedule in MMOs currently. It’s really hard to see how GW2 isn’t a success. We are almost a year after the launch and they are doing so well they are focusing on giving content away instead of focusing on paid expansions.

In an interview with Massively Scott Hartsman (former Trion GM and CCO) talked about how the current business model for AAA MMOs is fundamentally broken and part of the reason is the development costs has risen exponentially over the last few years. While it might sound like a good thing companies are putting more money into MMOs, it puts greater strain on companies because it narrows the margin of error. We have gone from a model where a company could make mistakes and still have some room to cover.

In addition to the rise in costs player expectations have also drastically risen. It used to be a company could make a few mistakes but they could then learn from them and fix the mistakes and gamers would stick with them. Now it seems like as soon as a MMO has an issue a certain segment of players is out, and will go play something else. It’s not necessarily a bad thing gamers want more for their money, but it is another factor putting increased strain on game developers.

There is also something to be said for developers just not really being in touch with the MMO market as a whole. One example of devs being out of touch with the MMO community is SWTOR devs never expected people to play in one sitting for more than 3-4 hours at a time. I remember having a conversation with Cory Butler, Bioware Live Producer, at Pax East 2012 about that and being absolutely astonished. Even super casual players will have play times longer than that from time to time, and not being aware of something like that when you are making a MMO is a huge oversight.

It doesn’t end there either. Just in my general observations of MMOs in the last few years the standard life cyle is, a new MMO launches and tons of people buy it and start playing. Then a month or so later some percentage of players stop playing. Then the publisher sort of panics because for some reason they assumed it would just be clear sailing with no bumps in the road. Whereas, at least to me, it seems like they should plan for the drop off and have the ultimate goal to slowly grow the MMO over years. Instead it often feels like publishers just look at MMOs as quick money (after they launch) and if it doesn’t blow everything else out of the water they decide to abandon ship.

Personally I think the real measure of success should be if a game grows over time and if it is making enough to sustain itself. I get the argument about if a game lives up to expectations or not, but with publishers being so out of touch it seems a silly measure to go by. That goes double for living up to consumer’s expectations as well.