WoW – (Not) Hatin’ On The Patch

It’s a longstanding MMO tradition to wail, gnash one’s teeth and tear one’s hair at major game patches (I remember doing it in Asheron’s Call), but for the most part — brace yourselves, this might be a challenging concept — game designers actually know what they’re doing and game changes are almost always very sensible. More to the point, they’re based on a lot more data than single players (or even all players) can see.

So patch 6.0.2 came out this week, in preparation for Warlords of Draenor which launches in a little under a month. It includes — aside from probably the longest patch notes I have ever read — a great many changes, most of which I approve of heartily. One of them is the stat-squish, which was long overdue. Others include all sorts of class changes, which is probably what will occasion the worst of the above-mentioned wailing and gnashing. Me, I like them. I’ve played my hunter, my drood and my warlock so far and while they all feel a little different, it’s not BAD-different and it’s not all that different either. For the first time in two years it feels like my hunter might want to switch to marksmanship spec now and then. (For those who don’t know, I don’t dungeon much, if ever. I solo and I duo, I bimble around, I play alts. I’m not requesting comments on the playstyle, just letting newcomers know what it is.)

The new Reagents tab in the bank is the shiz, as expected, and crafting straight from the bank is even shizzier. Losing 95% of the market for large-ass crafting bags (which two of my characters can make) is less awesome, but not something I’m going to weep too hard over.

MementoThe new character models… On the whole, I like what I’ve seen. My hooms do look a little confused (as has been mentioned by others), the Nelf baby-fat faces are kinda fugly, and I haven’t really looked at any others yet (though the undead females other have posted look frankly adorable). My major gripe with the new models I’ve tried out is that there are only about 3 non-ridiculous models for each race, so we’re all going to end up looking the same anyway.

I’m starting to look forward to the expansion, which I quietly preordered a while ago. The only downside is that it drops 2 days after the EQ2 expansion goes live for us special folks (by which I mean the paying players), but having too many games to play is always a good thing.

I unintentionally ended up levelling the warlock in the last couple of days, and she raced from 77 to 86 in less time than it takes to say “greased lightning” — almost too fast. Hell, I’m two-thirds of the way to 87 already even though Pandaria is supposed to be a bit slower. (And it is, but it’s marginal.) Rest-XP is the greatest shiz of all, of course. Which means that when WoD hits, I’ll have several characters to choose from when it comes to levelling through the content the first time. Eh, who am I kidding? It’ll probably be the Hunter… or the Druid. Feral still rocks my socks.

EQ2 MountGate – Options R Us

Last week I reported (mostly via Ark’s Ark) that the Powers That Be had decided that mounts wouldn’t — be that is, at least in combat. This caused quite a furore on the forums and in the blogosphere (torches! pitchforks!) and the decision was reversed amended improved to give us all more options, which is always a good thing in MMOs. Can’t have too many options. Except maybe when it comes to boob sliders — I really only accept those when they’re paired with “package sliders” and I have yet to see one of those in any game (Age of Conan maybe?). And what about {expletive deleted} jiggle physics? Why does that only apply to breasts? I demand equality of jiggle!

Uhh, where was I? Oh yes, mounts.

So anyway, one of the recent patchlets on the Test server added some options to the animations section of the, er, options screen. Here it is:

It’s easy. See your mount Always/Never/Not in Combat. Piece of cake. Lovely job on the part of the EQ2 team and it should make everyone happy except Whiny Rage-Bastard who’s never happy about anything anyway and would find a way to complain even on Christmas morning.

The default setting is to hide mounts during combat, and for my money that is extreeeeeeemely irritating. Seriously. Draw weapon, *poof*, fight-fight-fight, run towards next opponent and the mount re-*poof*s under you only to *poof* again the second you draw your sword. The added 5-second post-combat delay actually only makes things even more irksome, at least to me. However, I’m sure that some people will be delighted with this option and therefore it’s a good thing.

Different horses for different courses, right?

(See whut I did thar?)

In other news, happy Cinco de Mayo for those of you living — as I am — in an area where it’s celebrated. Being French, I am extremely conflicted about this one. Part of me is tempted to drive down into the middle of Albuquerque and loudly yell “Allons enfants de la Patrie! A la Bastille!” but I doubt it would go over well. Assuming anyone understood it.

The other part of me just thinks I should get myself a beer and a party sombrero and keep my evil French revolutionary leanings to myself.

EQ2 Travel Revamp

I must say this in very bold letters to make sure people actually read it:

The travel revamp is NOT on the Live servers yet. It’s on the TEST server, being TESTED. The system may change. It may make it to live as is. It may never make it to live at all. Or it may be spindled, folded or mutilated before it makes it to live. You Have Been Warned. Do not whine about how it impacts your gaming on live, because it doesn’t. Yet.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the skinny according to the original patch notes (see below for TL;DR or read the blue bits):

  • Traveling to different locations uses a new interface.
  • Now when selecting a travel location via teleportation, bell, or sokokar/horse/griffon etc. you will do so through a travel map.
  • Simply double click your choice, or select it and then press OK to be whisked away.
  • Mousing over a location when using world teleportation displays a level range and some background information on the area.
  • Bell/carpet zone travel has been consolidated. Bells on the different continents have all been linked together. This means the bells that were in Nektulos are no longer limited to 6 locations. These bells have been reduced to one bell that is linked to other bells across Norrath. Bells used to travel within Qeynos and Freeport have not been changed except that they now use the travel map allowing for more direct connections to where you wish to go.
  • Druid portals no longer require the player to have harvested a Blessed Shrubbery. Blessed Shrubberies have been imbued by Tunare with the power to transport players to any of the other druid rings! {However when you do harvest a shrubbery, you now have to yell Ni! really loudly, or it won’t work.}
  • Translocate no longer requires a planar symbol.
  • Translocate portals were transporting players to incorrect spots in the Bonemire and The Barren Sky. This has been corrected.
  • Planar symbols have been removed from vendor lists.
  • Sokokar posts no longer require the Sokokar item. They now check that you have completed either the tradeskill or adventuring version of the quest.
  • The following zones no longer require you to do a quest or go to a location before accessing the inner zone travel option. The quests that were there previously have been reworked so that players can still do them optionally. [Nektulos, Thundering Steppes, Sinking Sands, Pillars of Flame]
  • The following zones now have inner zone travel options or have had new locations added to them: Steamfont, Zek, Feerott, Enchanted Lands, Everfrost, Greater Faydark, Nektulos
  • All spires that can be reached through wizard teleportation should now have a static teleporter and they should all now link to the entire network. {Yes, the Greater Faydark spires now have a wizard portal in the middle. Bet you don’t even know where the spires are!} This affects the following zones: Greater Faydark, Moors of Ykesha, Kylong Plains, Tenebrous Tangle, Bonemire, Barren Sky
  • All call spells have had their cast times reduced to 10 seconds. {That includes all City call spells, Call of Ro, and Call to Guild Hall}
  • Guild hall bell amenities have been changed: Since all bells are the same now we have given each one a different look. The sinking sands carpet now acts like a bell but will retain the carpet look for those who like it.

One Bell to Rule Them All

The short version is as follows:

  • All Bells Are One Bell
  • All Druid Rings Lead To All Other Druid Rings
  • All Spires Are One
  • Oh, and you can putz about internally in some zones too.
  • You will no longer have time to take a shower, get coffee, and do your makeup while waiting for Call to Home to cast.

The good: the travel system was highly confusing for new players and did need to be rethought and reworked somewhat. This helps. Somewhat.

The less good: let’s call this what it is. It’s not a revamp, it’s a consolidation. More a spring-cleaning than a Flip My Travel System.

The really unwieldy: the travel map. It’s FREAKING HUGE!! and I’m playing at 1920×1200 on a 28″ monitor. On anything smaller and the map’ll probably bop you in the eye when it pops up. Here’s what the world-bell map looks like, with destinations:

In some cases, like the World Bells, travel has definitely been simplified. Now, if I want to get to the Enchanted Lands from Qeynos I no longer have to go to Antonica, then the Thundering Steppes, then Nektulos Forest, and finally to the Enchanted Lands. I understand the lore and RP reasons for that (travel by boat, boat routes), but puh-lease. I love RP, and I enjoy lore, but when they get in the damn way they should be reworked until they don’t. It’s that simple. If you want to make me travel for ages to get somewhere, do it on a tabletop campaign I’ll be sure to pass on.

(We’ll deal with meaningful travel some other day. I’m sure it’s been at least a year since I last ranted about “meaningful” travel where “meaningful” means “I just meaningfully wasted the 45 precious minutes you have to play. Now you have to make dinner/put the kids to bed/do the laundry/prep for work tomorrow. Isn’t it lovely that your play session was so full of meaningful travel? Have a nice day!”)

I’ve also heard a bunch of people say “Oh please, the newbs who can’t figure out what bell to hit in the guild hall don’t deserve any help, they’re too dumb!” So here’s a newsflash. Not everyone (gasp, I know!) is in a guild. Not everyone is in a large guild that has access to all the travel amenities. Not everyone who is in a guild even has a freaking clue how to get to the guild hall or that such amenities are available, depending on how helpful the guildies are. (Not any guilds I’m in, I hasten to add. But I did have to point someone else in the right direction after they joined Very Large Guild 0019 on Server X. They weren’t given any directions whatsoever regarding how to reach the hall, how to obtain their recall spell, and what the travel options are.) Not everyone comes into a game osmotically knowing what to do, so simpler is generally, you know, better.

This is an MMO rule, or should be. Just because you can make it complex doesn’t mean you should. Corollary: Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s stupid or bad.

So anyway, this is a step in the right direction. I did wonder how they were going to tie together the three entirely different travel systems that exist, and the short answer is: they didn’t. Savvy travellers will still have a little advantage over less savvy ones, not counting the people with freaking huge guild halls who can just click on the amenity they need. The bells/spires/rings don’t all land in the same places, so sometimes it can be more useful to hit the Commonlands druid ring (in the western part of the zone) than its travel bell, which is way the hell over on the eastern side.

There have been complaints that this isn’t far-reaching enough, but for the time being it’s enough for me. I think it’s probably enough in general. I kind of like the different systems — they just need to be made more obvious to new players and more available for use, which I think is the case now.

So far the only real downside of this, aside from the huge-ass world map that pops up, is the fact that intra-zone travel has been made really awkward. Before, you’d click on the NPC and pick from a list of 2 or 3 options. Click-click-done. Now when you click the NPC the Huge-Ass (TM) zone map shows up and you have to hover the mouse frantically while trying to figure out where your destination is, then click (double click the destination or click-and-click-ok). It’s silly. NPC dialog options were WAY simpler and considering how many people have commented on this in the test forum, I suspect it may not stay as it is. If it does, I guess we’ll just have to suck it up and get used to it.

Remember — this is NOT ON LIVE yet. Just sayin’.

(It’s expected to be in the Game Update (err… 55?) coming out sometime around the end of the month. I have no seekrit sauce info on that.)

EQ2 – Ch-ch-ch-changes*

MMO players don’t like change. Actually, people aren’t fond of change much, unless it’s change they’ve initiated and therefore welcome at least in part. But MMO players really don’t like change.

So when you yank out EQ2’s most hallowed and ancient (keyword: old) starting cities, there’s going to be a little outcry. The forum thread on it is already 15 pages long after 36 hours — which, while it’s not the 150+ pages such controversy would generate on the WoW boards, is s sign of pretty heated debate among the EQ2 community. Arkenor has weighed in on his blog with a pretty reasoned “gah! no!” — and even got a dev response from Greg Spence, lead programmer for EQ2. (Rawr Ark!)

Note — the cities aren’t going away. Just the Islands associated with them as newbie experience, and hence the opportunity to start in either of those two cities.

A quick comparison:

– Any of the newer starting zones (Timorous Deep especially but also Darklight Wood and to some extent Greater Feydark) provides better and more class-appropriate loot, more money, and more in the way of ongoing global storyline.

– The newer starting cities aren’t segmented into separate-zone compartments the way Qeynos and Freeport are. Now, while this can actually make it a pain in the ass to move around in the newer cities (or craft, for instance, when there are 85 other people in the zone with you) it does provide a much more connected feeling. I’m IN Kelethin or IN Gorowyn, and not just in some village or outlying quarter that’s norminally part of the town it’s in.

Admittedly this is a contentious issue. The Freeport and Qeynos “villages” — basically racial ghettoes, call em what you will — were part of those cities’ charm. They were also part of why moving around in those cities was a pain in the ass, but the charm thing was undeniable. You’d get funnelled to where your racial buddies lived and could settle there if you liked, or move to another village if you didn’t like. There are tons of EQ2 players who love the Willow Wood (the Wood Elf village) with a passion I’ll never understand. I think that place is twee and ridiculous to navigate. Personally, I’m fond of Castleview Hamlet. Point being, each village had character (or a slightly different shade of browny-grey muck on the walls, for Freeport). The newer cities are much more homogeneous.

Aye, and there’s the rub. We don’t like homogeneous. We want to stand out.

Even more fundamentally, as MMO players, we feel hugely threatened when stuff is taken out of our games. Putting stuff in — fine, that’s what we pay you guys for. Taking stuff out — whoa, what? No!

Doesn’t really matter what it is. But when it’s something that deeply affects the in-game identities of a bunch of players (especially the older (read: more committed to the game?) players), you can expect some pretty heated debate and WTFs.

I’m going to be on the fence on this one. I’ve gone through the Island newbie experience at least a dozen times in the last year, and I’ve been through the other cities’ newbie experience even more times (with the exception of Greater Faydark — I really dislike that starting area though detailing why would take a whole ‘nother post). I even have the pix to prove it:

Alas poor Ysh - this one didn't live to see level 20

The stories on the newbie islands are fun, and the experience did get streamlined a few years ago. There’s something appealing — to me, anyway — about being in a “safe zone” before you head out into the wider game world, though I suspect that’s actually a minority view. (“Sheeeit, just drop me into the action already. Make me start at level 20 too while you’re at it, m’kay? The game only starts at the level cap, right?”) On the downside, the money and items and general “this is how I fit into this freaking GINORMOUS game world” are kinda lacking.

Sure, you could fix that. Update the loot, update the money. But that takes time and real resources, which are at a premium in every single MMO team I’ve ever seen. And for all we know, maybe they’re doing just that but they don’t like to talk about it (kind of like working for charidee).

So while I’m not sure I like this change, because I’m an MMO player and I too dislike seeing stuff taken out, I kind of see why it’s being done. As I mentioned in the comments on Ark’s post, a lot of people that I’ve induced to try EQ2 over the last year have eventually given up at least partly because they couldn’t find a foothold, a direction to go in, an idea of what to do in a world that’s not quite a sandbox but still so damn huge people aren’t quite sure what to do with it when they first get there. A few more guidelines might result in a few more retained players — and EQ2 is really good enough that it deserves to retain some new players, even if it is getting a little long in the tooth here and there.

Now, on to the other change. Oh yes – not just one major thing, but two. I can imagine the EQ2 team getting out the asbestos knickers when they patched those things into the test server.

No more mounted combat.

That’s it.

Course, it’s never that simple. My gut reaction is “WTF? I’m going to be hopping on and off my damn horse every time I have a fight?!” Actually, I have a vague memory of that being exactly how it worked in some game or other (WAR? EQ2 in the old days?) and it was a pain in the visual ass. Seriously. Clip-clop, clip-clop, swing-sword, *poof horse*, kill mob, *unpoof (repoof?) horse*, clip-clop.

It’s about as ungainly, visually, as that was to read.

Then again, if it’s done smoothly and doesn’t have all the stupid little issues of which I could name 5 or 10 right off the bat — the main one being it happening when you really don’t want it to, repeatedly — maybe I can live with it. Many of the classes have some really cool combat animations (eg Monks, Bruisers) that just don’t show well off the back of a horse. (Hovering mounts are another matter, but NONE of my chars use those. I hateses them. They makeses me seasick.)

My take on this debate is simple: if possible, I’d like to have a choice in the matter. Let me turn that on or off. I understand that’s not likely to happen, but that’s how I’d like it. Hell, make mount-visible combat be off by default, but give me the chance to turn it back on if a) it won’t impact general resources too much (I gather it’s an issue in raids?) and b) I don’t care about seeing my monk do genuine crane kicks.

I’ll be interested to see what the upshot of the howling debates is, though I suspect it’ll be something like this: Qeynos and Freeport as starting cities will go away, because the initial experience they provide just doesn’t match up to the other places and you end up in a city that’s made up of a million little villages… and you end up wondering where the hell all the people in the game are. This is not good for a game in terms of first impressions. As for the mount thing… if the howling is loud enough it may get postponed, but if there’s some real graphical impact from doing this then it’ll get done. Maybe we’ll get the on/off switch somewhere down the road if the performance gains aren’t as noticeable as they’d hoped.

EDIT — The above fence-sitting notwithstanding, if they start removing some of the (admittedly myriad, but each unique and snowflakey!) classes, I’ll be at the front with my pitchfork and my torch. Just sayin’.

~ ~ ~ ~

*And if you know the Wonderstuff song this title came from, good for you. You must be almost my age. If it made you think of David Bowie instead, you’re even older. Suck it up.

Dragon Age Origins: first PC patch

EDIT — I hate to have to add this hours after touting the patch, but be careful. Installing it is preventing people from running the game. This may be related to VS runtime stuff, but either way it’s ridiculously unprofessional and, in my now jaundiced view, rather epic FAIL from Bioware. Not good, guys, really. This forum thread has more info.

= = =

Saturday 7th Edit: BioWare have updated their social site to make the patch actually findable by people, as Spinks reports. Hopefully the next thing will be a patch that doesn’t require a workaround for people running 64-bit OSs.

= = =

That only took 3 days! Actually, the pessimist in me was expecting to download a patch the second I’d installed the game. Maybe I play too many MMOs?

This news is thanks to elite-newshound Werit and comes from RPGWatch:

Dragon Age – v1.01 Patch

by Dhruin, 2009-11-06 08:06:43

The first patch is out for Dragon Age and if I read it correctly, among a small handful of fixes they appear to have made it easier on Easy and Normal settings.  Grab it here for retail (all languages – 13Mb):

  • fixed potential corruption of character statistics
  • fixed portrait appearance sliders when importing a character from the downloadable Character Creator
  • fixed import for preset face settings from the downloadable Character Creator
  • made Easy difficulty easier
  • slightly increased attack, defense, and damage scores for all party members at Normal difficulty
  • fixed video issues when running on a very wide screen display, including ATI Eyefinity displays

Steam has already released it for those users.

I noticed with interest that among other things it fixes my “fugly imported characters” issue. Yay! As for making Easy mode easier, all I can say is /boggle. I played both intros on easy mode, and if I could manage it then anyone else can. Then again, I haven’t played any of the dwarven intros and I gather they’re a little more hardcore, as is only fitting for dorfs. Even so… easier easy mode seems like easymode overkill.

Ah, TDAPD

Or: The Day After Patch Day

US Scheduled Maintenance – 09/24/2009 6:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time
This is a notification that All US EQ2 Worlds will be coming down at 6:00 AM PDT on 09/24/2009 for maintenance. The estimated downtime will be 2 hours.

- SOE Operations team

I think my world might implode if there ever was a major patch in any MMO that didn’t include emergency hotfixes and fix-the-things-the-patch-broke downtime.

(I arranged that because my mother’s visiting. If I can’t play, I’m damned if the rest of you will be able to!)

EDIT — oops, I had a heavy hand with comment moderation. If I deleted yours by accident and you’re not a Russian spam watch selling site, let me know… or try again. ;)