Well, I have just spent 6 months in Rift. I will do a more detailed post soon on my experiences there. I am currently planning on moving back to Fallen Earth for some mutant slaying, more on that soon.
Comments on my travels in Azeroth (Part 1): Pre Cataclysm
Thoughts on tactical healing in MMOs:
I have always played healers in MMOs, from the clerics in EQ to the Medic in Tabula Rasa to empaths in City of Heroes to both a Priest and Druid in WoW. I love the tactical choices presented in healing, I am not one to just stare at health bars for hours on end, I like to make decisions based on what is happening: Group member C is being charged by “big hit” mob, let me select him and line up a heal before the bar drops. Cast and ability rotations bore me to bits. Throw in a latency of 400 ms+ and you are talking a very active gaming session in a group as a healer.
Most MMOs offer the standard healing spells, a big expensive heal, a smaller cheaper heal and HOTs of different kinds. This is the healer toolbox and each MMO in some way or another tackles them the same way. In WAR the Disciple of Khaine and Warpriests had melee based heals, you heal when you hit, which was an amazing turn on the whole healing thing. Of course WAR also allowed you to have two targets, enemy and friendly so you can do damage to one and give health to another through it, something I have not seen in any other MMO.
World of Warcaft seems to have changed their healing strategies in design as well to some extent while I was away.
Especially the druid healing in post 4.0.1 seems to be a much more active type of healing with plenty choices to make.
After running some dungeons with my level 71 druid, this became very obvious, I had to be very active and it wasn’t just a case of standing and pumping the tank with heals. The nature of druid healing is very much on the run with more than just one HOT to use. I am still coming to grips with this kind of healing but I can tell you this.
It is a GREAT change to the 3 button healing in Aion. At level 71 I have a stackable hot that I can only place on one group member up to 3 stacks, I have a basic hot and I have a HOT that heals in an AE around the target. I also have a button that will heal the target that has a hot as an instant cast AND it will heal those around them with another hot. I also have 2 basic heals with cast times: a short one with moderate heal plus a hot and a long heal. Plenty of tactical choices and all but two of them can be done while moving, have to love that.
I love druids, so versatile.
For the last month Sep-Nov I have been playing EQ2 courtesy of a friend who graciously gave me a spare account he had lying around. It meant that I did not have to buy a new account. Interesting thing about EQ2: the second you buy an account you also get ALL the expansions for the game free. EQ2 had TONS of expansions, 5 I think up to this point.
This gives you a HUGE amount of content to play through and I wanted to see how the baby of the first MMO I ever played had grown up. I spent 4 years in EQ1, was on a raid when my first kid was born. I still remember shouting in game, OFF I GO TO THE HOSPITAL! in the raid, memories
Made a new character in EQ2, a necromancer, I always play either pet classes and/or healers. Enjoyed my time in EQ2 but ultimately a very lonely journey. Guild text can only sustain you so long while you adventure through a world populated only by NPCs. Don’t get me wrong, there are many players, just all on their top level characters, a long way off from the starting zones I was in.
Decided to call it quits when I got into one group in the whole month. Just one month’s sub spent, thanks to my friends.
I then found out that I had a digital collector’s edition hiding in my NCsoft account menu! Imagine that, no idea where it came from, probably something to do with my long standing account with City of heroes.
I packed my bags and waved bye-bye to the helpful folks in my EQ2 guild and moved on to Aion, an MMO that I now have 37 free days of play time, hey, why not!
Ahhh Aion, what an entrancingly beautiful game! This is by far the MMO with the best graphics I have ever seen. I got a client from a friend close to where I stay and started playing. The world is very populated, hundreds of people running around in newbie zones, it is awesome! Blazed through levels 1-15 at a breakneck speed, which I hear is pretty fast. Soon I saw why. From 15+ things slowed down a lot and all the nice quests started fading away. Soon the grind became evident.
I must admit, I actually enjoyed having only 5 buttons to push in combat, a welcome break from 3 quickbars full of buttons to press. Combat is a joy, it is hard and challenging. I soon noticed that the majority of my quests at my current level (28) have become 1/10 repetition. Basically go kill 10 of this mob, come back, get xp and coin, go and do it again for 2/10. If you do it 10/10 you get extra xp . I have no idea why the devs couldn’t just have made it, kill 100 mobs and come back for mega xp, sure would have cut down on the travel time.
Grouping in Aion happens in instances usually and these instances have long cooldowns. So when I wanted to group I had to wait for a 12 hour cooldown on the first instance, bummer.
Look, the game is amazing in graphics, great polished game play but the grind (which is why I never even started playing it) starts to get to you. There is only so much you can stomach killing 10 mobs 1/10 times in a really beautiful backdrop.
I wanted to returno Azeroth to witness the Cataclysm anyways. No tourist stop would be complete without a view of a major disaster in an MMO world ;-). My only issue is that I read that WoW has become World of PatchCraft and that patches are over 1GB. My next mission was to find a client, which is now at a bloated 25GB. I wanted to get into Azeroth before the expansion, just to see what Blizzard is going to do as a lead up. Hopefully by tonight I will be in Azeroth again!
Finally decided to resurrect this blog and occupy it and post on it …. often!
Quick summary of my MMO travels this year:
Star Trek Online: friend bought me the game. Thanks David!
City of heroes (always return to this one)
LOTRO: bought all the expansions after Moria and played for 2 months
Fallen Earth: great game
WoW: returned to the game after 4 years, my old account was long ago destroyed by my guild that I gave it to. Friends bought me a new account + BC + WOTLK. Thanks David and Shaun!
City of Heroes again: played Going Rogue
EQ2: played this for a month on an account given to me by a friend. Thanks Andrew!
Aion: free collector’s edition I found I had online, no idea how.
WoW: going to resub WoW today in preparation for the big cataclysm expansion, as a tourist I HAVE to be there to see this.
Also adding a professional page that will hold all my professional info and serve as my online CV.
This review will detail the level progression and game events that my highest current character at level 25 has experienced. It will go through the initial days after headstart on to the big nerf patch and beyond. It is interesting that I choose to write this review today as today (10th September) sees the next big patch that makes sweeping changes to many of the game’s powers. I will add my comments to this review after the big patch today.
Keep in mind that this is not an objective review, it cannot be, I really enjoy the game.It will be looked at from a comparison viewpoint though, I will compare it with the more traditional MMO structures found in games such as WoW, Warhammer as well as the non traditional such as City of Heroes.
Lots has been said about this stage of a character’s journey and I will not say much more about it. Of all the “unique” functions and structures in Champions as an MMO, this one is the one that has been sold the most to media and the MMO consumers. It is indeed the richest and most complex character creation I have ever used in any MMO that I have played, including City of Heroes which I thought was the ultimate. I spent days in the headstart designing a pack of costumes for release and it paid off. You can add incredible detail to your character in this creator. The most striking difference between it and other’s before it is the addition of the “feral” options. You can make a totally animalistic character, complete with choices on animal heads, tails and a stance that has your character loping around on all fours in the game itself. You can spend hours in this meta game and save costumes and variations for later use. The creator saves your creation as a JPG file with embedded code that allows it to be used and edited using the creator, one of those nifty little additions to existing MMO structures that will see a change in how things are done in future games. One of the many seemingly small innovations of the game that actually have a huge impact on the way you see the game.
The tutorial zone is a much talked about very small instance of the game where new players are introduced to the concepts of the game. This is an average MMO structure that has grown since the days of EQ to City of Heroes to WoW to AoC. Everyone has to complete the tutorial, there is no skipping it. Still it is a fun way to spend a half hour. After doing the tutorial over 15 times already I can navigate all it’s missions and extras in just over a half hour, ending up with a level 6 character, it is not that long and you can have a lot of fun in that half hour. The unfortunate thing is that you are only using 2 powers for the entire half hour to complete the tutorial, something you have to get used to. There are many little side missions that are pretty interesting, including saving a cat, helping a super villain and killing many many insects called the Quallarr. In the tutorial you quickly learn how to use the tap, charge and maintain structure of the combat powers, depending on the powerset you have chosen or the 2 powers you have chosen at character creation. The tutorial difficulty is very easy for obvious reasons as people are still learning how to play the game. At the end of the tutorial you get to choose which zone you would like to use for your next progression step, here you have a choice between a desert zone or a frozen Canadian zone, either have fun missions and are very different but very well balanced to give you different gaming experiences but with neither being “better” than the other.
Note on Powers and Powersets:
Before I move on to the next steps in character progression, I am going to stand still a bit at the central object of leveling and combat: the powers. As in most MMOs, leveling happens in order for you to make your character more powerful as you are matched up against more powerful enemies. The difference in Champions is that you are not set in a line of powers, you can mix and match them. In WoW you choose a character class which dictates your powers and power acquisition as you level. In City of Heroes you choose 2 powersets which also dictates the powers you acquire as you level. Champions is different and stands out from the usual.
The energy builder:
This is the very first power you get. In order for you to use powers you need to have energy. This is again where Champions deviates from other MMOs, in that instead of depleting a resource as combat progresses, you build it up in order to use it. This is done with the basic energy builder damage power. There are other methods of generating energy but the energy builder is the one you will be using most of the time.
In Champions you can from the character creation choose the powers from the many powersets that you want to use. You can start with a basic ranged energy builder and then choose a 2 handed sword power to go with it. As you acquire new powers at every 3rd level (starting at 5) you can again choose powers from anywhere and use them. The way it is balanced is that the powers operate in tiers. At the start you can choose any powers from any tier 1 basic blast and energy builder. When you get out of the tutorial you can respec out of the first basic damage power and again choose from any tier 1 power from any set.
In order to progress to tier 1 powers from tier 0 you need to either have 2 powers from a set (that includes the energy builder) or 3 powers from any set, excluding the energy builder. This means that at level 8 you can choose a tier 1 power from any other set. This means that you can have a character that shoots a pistol for an energy builder, swings a chain around for area of effect damage and hits with 2 katanas, all powers from different power sets. The customisation is obvious and also one of the biggest draws to the game for me. I have filled all 8 character slots already!
Moving on out of the tutorial:
After making your choice and entering either the desert or Canadian zone you are treated with a cut scene generated from the game engine, each tells an interesting story. Your first order of business at level 5 (which is the average level exiting the tutorial) is to visit the Power House (referred to as the PH from now on). The PH is another innovation in Champions that is sure to change the way MMOs do things in the future. Basically the PH is a zone where you can choose powers and then test them on static “dummys”. If you do not like the way your power performs you can remove it and choose another at no cost. The PH also contains the power trainers that allow you to pay resources to remove powers that you chose in levels before, the cost ramps up rapidly for removing powers you have chosen earlier in your character’s career but as it stands you can completely “respec” or as it is known in Champions “retcon” your character and choose all new powers, at a horrendously prohibitive cost.
Keep in mind that you buy other progression related perks as well such as talents (permanent stat boosts) and advantages for your powers, which also count to the cost of the respec. Once you exit the PH the choices you made in the PH are cemented in and you have to pay next time you enter to remove them.
The new levels: Desert or Canada:
Once you leave the PH you get into Champions proper for your level progression from 5 to 14. Each of the zones starts off in “crisis” where you have to complete a mission series to remove it out of crisis, Canada is locked in a snowstorm and the desert is locked in a radiation barrier. Once you have completed the crisis zone then you can move freely between them and Millenium City, the big central hub.
Missions, keeping the traditional player happy:
The mission or “quest” structure of Champions follows the traditional MMO quest structure that you see in most standard MMOS, talk to a contact, receive a mission to do things, return and get experience. Mission XP is the biggest leveling contributor in the game, killing the mobs does not give you enough XP to level at all, it is more an side XP gain to level. You have a mission log that tells you your missions and helpful green circles on your mini map and full map that guide you in the direction of completing these missions. The mission types range from the usual “kill 10 rats” type to escort missions to steal missions etc. There are a few, very few missions that are different, but they are there. I make a point of reading every mission description on my main character and find every piece of lore I can. This makes for some engaging and interesting stories shaped by the mission structure. As I said before, the missions are traditional in type and execution, something I never liked and have to tolerate in Champions. If there was something I had to state negatively about the game it would be this aspect. The mission structure is also an impediment to grouping and progression as a group. Sure you can share missions but many missions are multi part and means that if a group member is on the first part and others are on other parts of the same mission then they are essentially stuck. This is what I liked about City of Heroes, each group member recieved experience for completing an instance, regardless if they had the mission for the instance or not. This is not in Champions. Still I have to move past this to enjoy the game.
Aspects you encounter in levels 5 to 14:
As you level through these levels you encounter other MMO structures such as crafting, the sidekick system in Champions and using the blocking system. Crafting in Champions has a lot of depth and it allows you to craft useful items that you can use on the spot such as healing, protection and other interesting gadgets. You essentially have to choose 1 of 3 crafting directions, each with world based nodes to harvest. Interestingly enough, most of your resources in the crafting comes from breaking existing items into components, you do not have to keep grinding harvesting nodes to progress. As you go further into crafting you start realising the real depth in this aspect of the game. Crafting allows you to also create containers (bags) and items that replace the look and operation of powers (power replacers). With crafting you can change the look of a katana power to clubs or axes. You can change the default assault rifle to a ray gun and more. Later on in crafting you receive a quality slider that you can use more components for to craft superior items and add additional powers to them. At the start the crafting seems normal but as you get into it, the depth expands. One of the very interesting additions to crafting is that you can craft straight out of your bank. You place all your crafting components in your bank and then when you use a crafting table anywhere in the world, your components are used out of the bank. You do not have to carry all your components with you or craft close to the bank at all.
The sidekick system allows a group to choose a champion that will carry the levels for the entire group, this means that if you want you can place yourself at the level of this champion, enabling friends at lower levels to join higher levels for fun. Unfortunately this fails because of the mission system, if you do not have the mission then you will be getting very little for being a sidekick. Still, it allows for friends to help each other out in tough missions and instances.
The blocking system adds another innovative aspect to the game. Essentially when a bad guy charges up a power you will see a comic indicator above the head of the villain, this is an indicator that you should press your block key to avoid the effect or most of the damage from the attack, this counts for PVP as well. This adds yet another interesting dimension to the game. You can even get powers that enhance your block and reduce the damage even further.
Level 13/14 and Millenium City:
Once you finish all the missions you can find in your zone you move on to Millenium City, where the missions start at level 14. Millenium City is the biggest zone I have yet seen in the game, it is huge and filled with details. People walk around and talk, villains fill rooftops and streets and chat to each other. One of my most memorable moments was where I observed 2 villains talking to each other. The one told the other that he used to be normal, then his MMO addiction made him go insane. There are many such references in the game, making it a rich environment. In Millenium city you encounter all the perk vendors, action figure vendors and major crafting vendors. In Millenium city you also get to design your nemesis, encounter instanced missions designed for groups of 5 that actually scale with the amount of people in the group and further delve into the rich detail of the game.
It is all in the detail, the final word:
I can literally spend pages writing about the detail found in Champions but this wall of narative has grown huge already. Suffice it to say that from the basics of character statistics to how they interact with the powers to the little details you find hiding in a fountain in the big city, this game is filled with detail. This is definately a “light” MMO, there is a lot of depth and potential for growth in the game. It is a PVE game and for this reason the PVP is certainly light. Unfortunately the PVP aspect seems to drive the many nerfs in the game at this point, but this is a cross all PVE MMOs have to bear.
I have one character at 25 that has just completed creating her nemesis, the arch villain that will be hounding her wherever she tries to dispense justice. This creation is much like creating a new character, you can use the full character creator to make your enemy, another innovative feature. I also have 7 other characters at various stages in the game, which is where I leave them to play with friends.
If you are looking for something fresh, new and innovative in its use of many MMO structures, then Champions is it. If you are looking for some more of the same kind of game play that you find in WoW and Warhammer, move on and don’t play this!
My first entry on this blog is devoted to my impressions at the end of the Open Beta. A lot more will follow once I actually get to play in the headstart!.
The final open beta event went well, took down 6 big robots in a raid situation, interesting, they must have tweaked it since earlier in the day it was a slideshow and later it was playable with roughly the same amount of people, I was on lowest settings both times of course.
Devs have posted that all you need to do is damage a bot a bit and you will get credit, although the game shows nowhere that you have got the credit. Apparently the reward will be given on release on your account.
On the note of the account it is important to know that I finally got a reply from a dev about the grace period. The grace period is the space of time from the end of the headstart (Friday 28 – Sunday 31) to when you have to enter the retail code from the box you get before your account is frozen. This is an important consideration for those who have pre-ordered and gotten the open beta and head start code, since all the people who pre ordered in the EU will only get their box on or around the 4th.
You can keep playing after headstart until the 6th of September before your account is frozen if you have not yet entered your code. This is great news. It means I am taking next week off, if I can get it off. I still will have to deal with my family in the week but will be playing without feeling guilty during work hours! And before you knock the guilty part: I work from home, guilt is all that keeps me from descending into MMOholic hell and losing my job.
Must say, there is SOOO much depth hiding on the edge of my testing time in beta. I only briefly adventured against some of the dastardly villain groups in the truly massive Millenium City zone (level 14+) but so much happened to tickle my MMO detail bone that I cannot wait to explore it further. I was doing the more generic K10R missions and before I knew it I was being handed “help me” letters by people held hostage, I picked up some notes on locations of warehouses where an arms deal was going down. All these extras gave me missions inside instances much like you find in CoH, only thing is the bad guys in the instances were labelled “tough” versions of the ones outside in the street and from their behaviour seemed the type that would scale in numbers to the group size, like CoH.
Pretty soon I had over 20 missions to do, both inside instances and outside in the street. Some missions hinted at costume pieces, crafting rewards and more. I even managed to pick up an item that turned me into a psychotic looking street thug, no idea what mission that was for.
One of the missions did tackle at random ended up being one where I had to gather reagents for a drug that would save some scientists, I had to kill and make this drug then distribute it, lovely stuff.
I was struck by the VERY large selection of powers that the various groups used, some of them displaying the tell tale power selection that was a signature of that group, much like the ones found in CoH. I love this since it offers me many different tactical situations and broadens the scope of the gameplay. You must remember that I am not a melee or ranged DPS player, killing things quicker than they can kill me is not my style, using terrain and my powers to good effect in different situations is, I am a pet user, crowd controller etc.
I really do not feel Champs is “MMO light”, the first 2 zones (tutorial and desert/canada) shows you so little of the true depth hiding in this game. In all the other MMOS I have played other than CoH, the beginning areas are always so complex and full of detail, almost as if the developer is trying to squish so much in there to grab the player and make the paying of subs a must. In all of these, the wider world outside the starting are suddenly felt empty and not “there” in comparison and only later through content additions and expansions were detail added to these. Yes, the much vaunted World of Warcraft was the same.
In Champions the depth starts showing beyond level 15, I find this refreshing and much more hopeful, memories of stepping outside the incredible Tortage in AoC still haunt me.
In addition to this Champs strikes a good balance between the statless and almost no gear level of depth and the heavy stats and gear orientated play of more “standard” MMOs. Your stats have major impact on the damage you do BUT the 2 stats you choose as your “super stats” do this, yes you read right ANY of 2 stats you choose. A good example is Strength, most MMOS view Strength as your big melee stat. In champions strength adds a little to melee but here is the thing: if you pick Strength as one of your “super stats” then you RANGED powers, regardless of what they are will do more damage depending on how big your strength is. This is an amazing change. Thematically you can add this to the frame of your hero in any way you want. Items add to stats, so you can further increase all or some of the stats, these items do not make the game, good thing too.
So as you can see, there is a lot of depth for the min/max player to explore, there is a lot of thematic depth for the role player to explore and there is easy depth to just jump in and do stuff for the casual player.
I might sound like a fanboy and to an extent I am, I am a fanboy of the superhero genre since it offers me the widest roleplaying options possible as well as tactical options.
Well ramble over, now the waiting begins to see what changes have been made in full release on Friday. See some of you there