Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Pet Project : Black Desert

The event celebrating the addition of the two new classes, Maehwa and Musa, to Black Desert Online ends tomorrow. There wasn't a lot to it. All you needed to do was log in and collect some Maehwa Seals

Why are there Maehwa Seals but no Musa Seals? I have no idea. Like everything about Black Desert the whys and wherefores are opaque.

Why, for example, would you create a system for providing quest rewards that requires the player to arrange quest items in a geometric shape within the character's inventory and then click on a tiny plus symbol? Is that supposed to be a mini-game?

Fortunately the combine ignores the squares in the middle.
Otherwise I'd have had to ride all the way to Calpheon
to find some warehouse space.
We didn't have any of that fiddle-faddle with the previous event, where we had to collect the eggs. That was a straightforward hand-in to an NPC. It didn't generate a slew of threads on the forums with people complaining that they'd laid out their Seals in the wrong order and gotten a reward they didn't expect.

Depending on your patience and dedication there were four levels of award on offer. For three seals you got a couple of black stones to upgrade your armor. For six you also got weapon upgrades and at nine Seals Daum threw in a few Fragments of Memory, used for restoring durability.

The big ticket prize was for a round dozen Seals. That got you all of the above plus a hawk pet. Obviously that was what I wanted. The event runs for fifteen days so there was a margin for error. I completed mine yesterday and, after some considerable finessing between my inventory and the warehouse in Heidel, I managed to arrange the Seals in the requisite 3x5 rectangle and collect my winnings.

I was a day behind on doing the event on Mrs Bhagpuss's account. I finished that this morning only to find that at level 11 she doesn't yet have enough bag space to make the shape. She has enough slots easily but it has to be completed as a vertical not a horizontal, which means earning another seven slots to extend the range down a row.


Luckily I realized this in time because years of playing MMOs has made me excessively cautious when combining or handing in anything, particularly when it's associated with temporary content. As far as I can gather, Daum is being very good about returning mis-arranged Seals, provided the reward box itself hasn't been opened, but still its a hassle you'd want to avoid.

The Seals will just have to sit in the Velia warehouse until Mrs Bhagpuss gets around to playing the game for long enough to open the bag space, which probably means they'll still be there when the servers close down. There's no cut-off point for combining them, luckily.

It's not as if pets are hard to get in Black Desert anyway. You can buy them from the cash shop. In fact, I believe that outside of this event you can only buy them from the cash shop. They aren't outrageously expensive, coming in at around $10 but the hawk is slightly more expensive than the cats or dogs so a chance to get one for nothing is not to be ignored.

Ah, bless! He's asleep!

Pets in Black Desert aren't just for vanity although they operate exceptionally well in that arena. Other MMOs that use pets as nothing more than eye candy could certainly take a look at the behaviors of the animals in Black Desert, where cats can jump up and sit beside you on your horse or ride on your shoulder.

The hawk has a good range of animations, including a wide circle high above your character, a wing-flapping hover, a settled shoulder ride and a head down, eyes closed resting position. It gets a bit confused if you lean against a wall, though. Mine just hung motionless above me like a helium balloon.

Not so much bird on a wire as bird on a string.

As well as looking cool the Hawk has storage slots (What, it's hollow? Don't ask). I haven't hunted with mine yet but I'm guessing it uses these to hold the loot it picks up for you every ten seconds. Like pets in many F2P games these scurry around after their masters going through the pockets of downed enemies for loose change and trinkets.

Because nothing in Black desert can ever be straightforward you don't just buy a pet and leave it to do its own thing, as I did in City of Steam, for example. No, you have to feed them, they have their own progression path and you can even breed them. It is ferociously complicated and there's no reason for me to try to explain it when Dulfy has already gone over the fine print in painful detail.

Fly, my pretty. Fly!

In addition to picking up loot my new hawk also spots "Rare Monsters" and marks them for me with a beam of light. I am guessing laser vision. Could be magic. I'm not actually clear on what a "Rare" monster is, even after a little googling. I guess I'll find out when I take the hawk out hunting.

So that's Black Desert's latest event over and done with. According to the latest interview the addition of the next two classes, Ninja and Kunoichi, has been pushed back a little. Whether that will spawn another event we will have to wait and see.

It's at times like this that shoulder pads come into their own.

As to whether I'll keep logging in now there are no more Seals to collect, well that's a point to ponder. I'm guessing not. Motivation is low and other distractions are powerful. I guess I at least have to try the hawk out at some point just to see how it "works" but beyond that I'm not sure.

These log-in incentives do the job - if the reward is tempting enough. This one definitely passed that test but now I have my object of desire I realize I probably didn't really need it after all. Story of my gaming life, that is...


Monday, 2 May 2016

Are You Experienced? : EQ2

The centenary game update for EQ2 has arrived and as promised it's enormous. The content drop includes a level 100 overland zone complete with Signature quest line, new Advanced and Heroic dungeons, a new Raid and several "Fabled" dungeons.

It also adds a new stat - Resolve - which is already drawing controversy. There are new collections, some new armor to craft, something for roleplayers by way of the Heartbound system and, of course, a new kind of mount in the cash shop. Owls, in case you were wondering.

It's a lot to take in. I've bought expansions that had fewer features that interested me. And then there are Experience Vials.

The Experience Vial System appears, at first look, to be an extremely neat solution to the ever-receding end-game problem suffered by all aging MMORPGs. As the genre ages and it becomes clearer than ever that some of these games have a grip on their playerbase that would shame a bulldog with rigor mortis, developers have thrashed around trying to come up with a way to allow the trickle of new and returning players to catch up with the firmly established end-game core.

The main method so far seems to have been to sell Boosts that jump a character up to near-maximum level and/or to hand out a free level upgrade, or even a whole max level character, with new expansions. That once-controversial approach has become the industry standard. The only time a developer takes a PR hit these day is if the boost isn't deemed powerful enough or, heaven forfend, they don't provide one at all.

The XP vial system that DBG have come up with for EQ2 is more flexible and more elegant. And more profitable, both for the company and for players. From what I can gather, as someone who's never played EVE, it loosely resembles CCP's recent addition of tradeable skill injectors.

In both games the company makes real-world money by selling the empty container in the cash shop, while the player makes in-game money by selling the filled version in the virtual trading system. In EQ2 that means buying Experience Vials in the DBG Store for DBG Cash, filling them and then selling them on the Broker for platinum.

You can also, naturally, keep it within the family and eschew Mammon by trading the vials directly to friends, guildmates or your own stable of characters. It would, for example, allow a player to give a leg-up to a friend who'd never played before or a guild to bring a returning player quickly up to speed.

It also provides an excellent solution to the perennial max-level-max-AA "what do I do with all this xp that's going to waste?" problem. Turn it into a new income stream or make yourself really popular by handing it out for free. Your choice.

I have a lot of DBG cash saved up. On the account where I used to have All Access I have over 17,000 DBC. On my current All Access account I have more than 13k. Even though I find the EQ2 cash shop the most appealing and useful of any MMO I've played, I still don't spend very much there and I'm always looking for new things to buy.


The price for Experience Vials seemed quite reasonable: 500DBC for a pack of three, 800DBC for five, 1200DBC for eight. I bought a five-pack and started filling it as I began the new Signature Quest with my level 100 Berserker (of which, more another time).

I activated a flask by right-clicking it in Inventory and off we went. The Siphon function seems to be set to "On" by default. Examining the vial told me they will hold 200,000xp and that the conversion rate is 60%. That means I need to earn around 333kxp to fill one.

After an hour or two meandering through the opening few quests of the Signature storyline, taking things at a very gentle pace, the vial was almost full. That is a lot faster than I was expecting but then I was getting a boatload of discovery xp just from flying around the new zone. Still, it's apparent that filling these vials is going to be a trivial effort for a high-level character.

How will that translate for the lower level that's going to consume them? I'll tell you when I fill one. Oh alright, let's look at the numbers.

My Beastlord is Level 94. That level requires just over one million xp. I can say from mildly bitter experience that getting that one million takes a long time. Or, at least, it feels like a long time. A lot longer than it's going to feel to fill five vials derping about on my zerker at level 100, that's for sure.

Looking further down the food chain we come to my Necromancer, becalmed at level 73. One of my necromancers, I should say. I have a level 90 but she's on the Test server. Level 73 requires just over 100k xp. Hmm. So one filled vial will give a couple of levels in the 70s.

Staring down the wrong end of the telescope I see an enchanter waving at me from level 30. That level takes a mere 14k xp. Assuming the vial, when consumed, continues to fill levels until it empties, it very much looks as if one vial will see you through several tiers.

In fact, according to this chart (which hasn't been updated for a while so may not be entirely accurate) it takes a cumulative 11 million xp to get from character creation to the end of Level 95. That's 55 vials, which, at current broker prices, would run you around 440k platinum - although I doubt there are even that many for sale.

Bear in mind that you also need  AAXP. You can use the vials for that as well but I'm not sure it would be a particularly efficient way of going about it. Someone else can crunh the numbers on that!

However you cut it, there are a lot of possibilities, especially once you factor in the Level 90 boost you can buy in the cash shop. As someone who enjoys leveling for its own sake I may be more interested in selling the juices of my labor than swigging them. Then again, if I'm going to level in EQ2 just for the fun of leveling I'm most likely to go do it on the Time Limited Expansion server, where the vials are not available.

All in all, it seems like an interesting and well-designed addition. The EQ2 team may be small but the developers working on it really do seem to have a good grasp of what they can and should be doing for the long-term health of the game.

Not sure I would have been saying that a couple of years ago, even though it's largely the same individuals involved. Makes you think, doesn't it?


Saturday, 30 April 2016

Shines Up Nicely : GW2

The last ten days or so haven't gone at all the way I expected, either in my MMO gaming or on Inventory Full. It was only a couple of weeks ago that almost every post here featured a slew of screenshots of Black Desert. In the six weeks or so from the beginning of March to the middle of April I posted twenty-one times about BDO and only about half a dozen times about anything else. And then the posts stopped.

They didn't stop because there's nothing more to say about Black Desert. They didn't even stop because I have nothing more to say about Black Desert. Coverage here stopped for the simple reason that I'm not playing the game any more.

Oh, I haven't given up playing it. I haven't fallen out of like with it or become bored or disenchanted or anything dramatic like that. I haven't even stopped logging in. In fact "logging in" exactly and accurately describes my current relationship with Black Desert Online. BDO is an MMO to which I log in.

Every day I log in my account, click on "Claim Rewards", claim my daily stipend and my token for the event that's running in celebration of the addition of two new classes to the game. Then I log out. After that I log in Mrs Bhagpuss's account, which she bought but so far has never played, and do the same there.

I finally get to kill The Wyvern Patriarch in Verdant Brink.

It takes about five or ten minutes to go through all the loading screens. It's quite annoying. The only reason I'm doing it is for the free pet that comes with a dozen tokens. Pets are not generally all that easy to come by in BDO unless you want to spend real money so I'm making an effort.

On Thursday night, the day Game Update 100 launched, I patched up EQ2. Like Wilhelm, I'm happy to see the game getting this degree of care and attention and I'm also fond of Zek, the zone that's getting the best kind of MMO makeover - an alternate version that complements but doesn't replace the original.

I'm also excited about the new Experience Vial system, which might let me play my max level Berserker, something I love doing, while passing the xp he gets, which he doesn't need and can't use, on to my army of lower level characters. Indeed, just about everything about EQ2's huge, free (for subscribers) update looks good to me.

So, if I haven't lost interest in BDO and I'm excited over new content in EQ2, why am I playing neither right now? Nor, for that matter, any the plethora of other MMOs I bang on about wanting to play? And why didn't I post anything at all for most of last week?

Moving the Tarnished Traitor out from behind a meta-event locked door so he's now available to be killed at your convenience is emblematic of the new approach. Of course, he still gets killed after the meta too.

Bloody GW2, that's why! If ANet's intent was to revitalize interest in their allegedly fading game then the Spring Update has to be considered a major success. Every day since the patch I have actively wanted to play GW2, and I do mean play. Prior to the patch I was often logged for much of the day but I often spent more time tabbed out than I did playing. Not any more.

The update achieved two apparently contradictory goals. It made solo play more attractive and rewarding than it has been for months, while simultaneously enhancing and encouraging all forms of group and co-operative play as well. It's remarkable.

The Heart of Thorns maps received very significant revamps that make exploring alone not only viable (I would say it always was but that's a minority opinion) but profitable and satisfying too. The changes to Verdant Brink are probably the most significant, radically changing the way the whole map operates, entirely for the better. I've spent a lot of time there and enjoyed it immensely. I don't do dungeons or fractals but if guild chat is anything to go by those have picked up a lot of post-patch attention too.

The change that has made the most unexpected impact is probably the simple tweak to the LFG function. The patch simply expanded the range of pre-made, permanent categories under which you can post your group offer or request, but that, plus the ability to join squads via LFG rather than just groups has revolutionized the entire process.

Gliding in Verdant Brink is probably the single most enjoyable of many enjoyable things you can do there now. It always was, but that might just have been me...

It's now extremely easy to find an active, vibrant, buzzing map, filled with motivated players concentrating on completing specific content. As a direct result I've been doing Auric Basin and Dragon's Stand metas for no better reason than that they are really good fun and because I can. Oh, and also because now the rewards are better and you get them as you go along rather than all at the end.

Ironically - or perhaps that should be idiotically - even though I've been doing a lot of this on my fresh level 80 Revenant, I still haven't used the free instant level 80 package that came with the patch. I meant to but in trying to game the system I pulled the handle one time too many.

GW2 hands out Tomes of Knowledge like fliers at a festival. I had enough already banked to make three level 80s. I thought I'd be clever and go to 79 with those, thereby bagging all the leveling rewards along the way, including exotics and rares that can be reforged for profit. Only I went all the way to 80 by mistake.

That meant a choice: use the Level 80 boost and get only the care package or save it for another new character and get all the free armor and weapons too. I chose to save it but that meant I had to gear up my Revenant the old way (buying stuff with badges and karma mostly) and I now have a level 80 with no waypoints (you get those opened automatically with the free boost). He also needs to do two dozen Heart of Thorns Hero Points for his elite specialization.
I'd play WvW if there was literally no other reward beyond server pride, but Stuff is Good.

Which is brilliant! It's almost like getting a whole new game. The Revenant, as the new class that came with the expansion, has a whole load of collections to do for armor, plus the weapon specialization. I have all the hero points to get and a whole new set of skills to learn.

If that wasn't enough I still have several specialist weapons to complete for other classes and then all the skills for those to learn and try to play with some degree of facility. I only just started trying to come to terms with playing a Druid last week for example,and I haven't even looked at Reaper or Chronomancer or Tempest, even though I've had all the Elite classes opened for months...

And that's just PvE. I've actually been spending most of my time in WvW., which has been insane all week. Just climbing up from third place in T1 to finish ahead of Jade Quarry has been a titanic struggle. The resurgent Blackgate hordes are uncontainable. The early part of the week consisted largely of either watching a slideshow until I died without knowing what had killed me or trying to find some quiet borderland backwater where fights were merely zerg vs zerg not gigantonormous blob vs blob.

Yak's Bend has always been at its best under pressure and it's been very instructive to hear the reactions of some of our more recent recruits, the players who are used only to seeing YB win. As someone who remembers regularly waking up on a weekend morning to log in and find us ticking in double figures, if we were lucky, this current setback seems like relatively small beer but some people are really feeling the pressure already.

This is the part I can help with - running supply, building catas, firing catas, all of that. Once the wall falls and the armies clash, though, I'm on frames per minute not frames per second. Still, they also serve, who only stand and build!

What the shake-up has done for me is to heavily re-inforce my already strong sense of server pride. Each evening when I get home from work I find I want to get my dailies done and then find a tag and Do My Bit. It may be mindless, pointless, meaningless pseudo-competition but by the Lord Harry it's fun!

Even so, fighting Blackgate is a somewhat uphill struggle. I was rather hoping that we might drop a tier this week (not supposed to say that but I know I wasn't the only one) but in the end our hard work paid off and it was Jade Quarry that went to T2. This week we get to fight Dragonbrand - or we do if Blackgate permit. We're in third again overnight but we always do badly at reset and right across the weekend. It's going to be another interesting week in WvW.

All of the above and more explains why there have been fewer posts than usual of late. My work schedule was at its least blog-friendly and the free time I had I wanted to give to gaming not writing about gaming. That's signifies a very sound success for Mike O'Brien's first foray into single-handed control of the game. GW2 almost feels like the game it was at launch. Let's hope it carries on this way.




Monday, 25 April 2016

Link Love? : GW2

Last Friday, while we were fast asleep in bed, ANet reset the underlying scoring mechanism for WvW and linked the bottom twelve servers with the dozen above them. The intent and effect is laid out clearly in this forum post:

We will be resetting glicko volatility and deviation for all worlds to the same value, but leaving their rating unchanged. What this means is:

  • The first matchup will use current placements (T1 worlds vs T1 worlds, T2 worlds vs T2 worlds, etc.)
  • The reset volatility and deviation values will come into effect at the end of that match.
  • Worlds that win, especially by a large margin, will have their rating increased by a larger amount than normal.
  • Likewise, worlds that lose, especially by a large margin, will have their rating decreased by a larger amount than normal.
  • The result is that when a world no longer is meant to be in a specific tier, they’ll move out of it more quickly.

As a direct result, Mrs Bhagpuss and I spent most of this weekend in The Mists, joining in a largely futile attempt to hold the line against the resurgent Blackgate hordes. As I write, around fifty hours into the match, Yak's Bend is in second place, 4k ahead of Jade Quarry and just short of 50,000 points behind BG.

Yak's Bend's has never been at its best either at reset or across the weekend. We often start the working week a little behind and have to go hard to pull out a lead during the week. That trend goes back almost as long as I've been on the server, which is always.

Usually, though, the deficit is a few thousand points at most. Last weekend, with the changes imminent, we came out of Sunday chasing a 38k lead. This Monday it's 48k.

Like the enormous queues that caused a flurry of angry forum threads on Friday night and left a lot of people disgruntled all through the weekend, the large influx of people logging in to play WvW isn't entirely down to the linking of servers. In Tier One the addition of low population worlds like Anvil Rock and Eredon's Terrace to the mix probably has less impact than the transfer of one or two large guilds from one T1 server to another.
We lost nearly 2k just in the time it took me to write this piece...

Indeed, as could readily be seen the weekend before the patch, most of the effect was caused by dormant accounts waking up as lapsed players (or, at least, lapsed WvW players) logged back in to see what all the fuss was about. Blackgate, with a long history at the top, has a lot of dormant WvW accounts.

The primary, immediate result of the change has been a tidal wave of action. All four maps were in highly active play all weekend, with multiple zergs and blobs from all three servers circling the borderlands. In the larger battles, when two fifty-strong squads clashed over possession of a keep or struggled to take or break a choke point, my aging PC almost gave up altogether.

Playing a berserker staff elementalist, the classic glass cannon, going into slide show mode and losing any control over placement, movement or reaction should make the game unplayable. My character ought to be dead before I can see an attack coming. That she managed to survive any number of battles without being picked off and eliminated while helpless suggests that there are plenty of other players struggling to cope with the conditions.

This, of course, is how WvW used to be, years ago. This is why, back then, we rarely went to the most popular and populated map, Eternal Battlegrounds. Fighting in Stonemist Castle, the centerpiece of that map, often contested by all three zergs at once, used to crash the game for me with tedious reliability.

Visual metaphor

As GW2 in general and WvW in particular has bled out we have all come to accept and expect things to be quieter, more sedate. As Yak's Bend first ascended and then was shoved further up the ladder we heard a lot about Tier 1 and its high population. I expected major problems with my old hardware when we finally got to the top but our rise to glory coincided exactly with the arrival of Heart of Thorns, whereupon WvW numbers fell off a cliff. And as we all know there's no gliding in WvW.

Consequently these gigantic battles come as a bit of a shock. They are also by no means universally welcomed even by those who don't have technical issues. Gameplay in WvW has long been diverse. Although it's a game mode seen from the outside as a primitive clash of zergs, the format hosts a wide range of playstyles.

There are roamers who travel alone, hoping for single combat opportunities. There are havoc groups of two, three or half a dozen, hopping maps and hitting hard behind enemy lines. There are scouts sitting in towers and keeps, tagging siege and reporting on enemy movements. And, of course, there are the merry PPT crews, battling doors and walls and NPCs for the good of the team and their own karma.

As of now, most of those activities are on hold. Structures are barely defensible when fortified. Below that you can forget it. Even a well-drilled response team can't handle multiple roaming 30+ zergs on both sides of two or three maps at once. On Saturday havoc teams had to run twenty deep to have much hope of taking even a couple of camps. As for solo fights it is to laugh!

If all this comes as something of a shock to the system for players used to life in the top tiers, imagine the trauma for the conscripts from T8. Impressively, the Anvil Rock players we've picked up seem to have taken it in very good part.
If I'd known then what I know now...

A good few have outed themselves in map or team chat and I'm happy to say that the response from Yak's Bend has been exemplary.  We may be vilified for our gameplay but we have always had a well-deserved reputation as an open and welcoming server with little time for drama. I ran for a while on Saturday with a very nice guild from AR who seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot and there have been several AR commanders tagged up, which is great to see.

Over on Blackgate the story hasn't been such a happy one, at least according to the forums. There are some eloquent and impassioned posts from distressed Eradon Terrace exiles that explain very clearly why world-linking, good though it may be for the health of WvW in general, could be catastrophic for established server communities.

There do seem to be some major flaws in the plan. Freezing the glicko score of the junior partners, removing all visual signs of their previous identity, the knowledge that any pairing may be changed, perhaps as often as four times a year, all add up to a class system for WvW. A lot of players are going to feel like refugees, conscripts or second-class citizens.  Even at best they are going to feel like guests or junior partners.

First impressions
For players who transferred to lower tier servers specifically to escape the overcrowded upper levels or in search of specific types of gameplay, mainly roaming and small group fights, that were better supported by a low population, this must be particularly galling. Especially given that money changed hands to facilitate the move.

This, though, is the risk you take by choosing a low population environment in a commercial MMORPG. In my experience, low population servers often have tighter communities, better atmospheres and offer gameplay options that are hard to find on busier worlds. I always prefer to play on a low population server if I can find one.

The trade-off for a better quality of life is insecurity. Low pop servers get merged. If you're lucky, when that happens, you might get a choice about where you go but sometimes you just have to go where you're put.

I feel for the displaced of Eredon Terrace. My third account is on Ehmry Bay. EBay is now twinned with Henge of Denravi, a server I would never in a million years have chosen to support. Every time I log in to do my dailies I have to think twice to remember which is supposed to be my "home" borderland.

We are lucky on Yak's Bend. We kept our name. We welcome Anvil Rock - we even joke about changing the server's name to Yak's Rock but only because, well, we all believe that Yaks do rock. And, obviously, anvils don't bend...
I will not miss Fire Keep.

If I'd woken up on Saturday morning and found that I had to log into another server to play, though, I am certain it would have diminished my enthusiasm. I might have decided to go play Black Desert instead.

As some of us have been saying this weekend, trying to raise the spirits of certain disheartened players who are already finding the blobbing and the queuing and the lag to be more than they bargained for, it is only a beta. Over the next few weeks things will settle. The novelty will wear off. The dormant accounts will go back to sleep. The scores will adjust, worlds will find their level, things will go back to normal, albeit a new normal.

Then the Alpine Borderlands will come back and the whole frenzied cycle will begin over again. Interesting times. Fun to look back on; not so much to live through.

If there's one thing I've learned, though, it's that I really need a new computer.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Great Spring Update or Here, Let Me Show You How To Do It!: GW2

GW2's Spring Update dropped on Tuesday and so far the reaction seems mostly positive, which might be a first. As expected, there was little in the way of new content, with the meat of the patch being system revamps and revisions.

The parts of the game under focus were World vs World and the Heart of Thorns maps, all of which received substantial makeovers or, in the case of HoT, nerfs. Seldom can such extreme pruning and cutting have been greeted with such enthusiasm.

The ever-unpopular Desert Borderlands had their barricades torn down, their bridges widened and their annoying House of Fun mechanics toned down or switched off altogether. Where once awkward jump pads or dangerous scrambles provided the fastest routes now hastily bodged-in ramps make access to key areas faster and less fatal.

That all went down well with everyone other than the awkward cusses who professed to have liked the DBLs all along, although I can sense a certain nervousness around the impending return of the Alpine Borderlands among those who can now see the potential in the new maps that was previously hidden behind the Extreme Sports aesthetic.

Almost universally welcomed was the addition of sPvP style "Reward Tracks" to WvW. I've long been of the belief that adding extrinsic rewards to game modes in order to encourage more people to try them is counter-productive. There's some real-world evidence for this.

Given that "lack of rewards" has been one of the top three complaints about WvW since launch, though, rather than fight the concept I can only comment on the execution, which is not at all bad. It's a cut-and-paste from SpVP, for sure, with just one new track specific to WvW added, but it adds some flavor and more stuff is more stuff, however you cut it.


One very clever move was giving Commanders the option to allocate a portion of the reward credit accrued by a squad to specific squaddies, who might be away from the main action on guard or scout duty, tagging siege or walking the commander's basenji.

The main problem with that is that it feeds off a new "Participation" mechanic, whereby players' activity is tallied over the fifteen minute intervals between "ticks", finalizing and handing out permanent reward credit only at the "tick", when the War Score is incremented. That just happens to be the exact same mechanic that this patch removed from the PvE Heart of Maguuma maps (the new, official, name for what has sometimes been referred to as Magus Falls). A little consistency would be nice.

Last night the second shoe dropped for WvW as server merges world linking redued the number of competitors in the North American league from twenty-four to a round dozen. Yak's Bend linked with Anvil Rock, which made about as much difference as an eye-dropper does to an ocean. My third-account server, Ehmry Bay, linked with Henge of Denravi, which might be a tad more noticeable. Gone are the days of wandering around doing dailies and taking camps without seeing a red name, I fear.


It hasn't been half a day yet so how all this will pan out is anyone's guess but by far the strongest reaction on the forums was outrage at the huge queues, hundreds strong and hours long, that most servers had at reset. I suspect that will be seen as a big win at Anet Towers. If nothing else the changes will have at least attracted the interest of a lot of dormant players who are now piling back in to see if the game they didn't like enough to keep playing has anything left to offer.

That, in a nutshell, is the overriding theme of the Spring Update: do whatever it takes to get people back through the doors. The suspicion is that Heart of Thorns under-performed at launch and then proceeded to tank hard, dragging the rest of the game down with it. Colin Johansen fell (or was pushed) onto his sword, leaving Mike "Two Hats" O'Brien to awaken from his slumber, remount his shining charger and ride in to Save The Game.

And on this evidence he just might. The WvW changes, while not by any means perfect or complete, have been better received than anything done for or to the game mode since launch. The threads on the Forum are positively glimmering with faint praise. As for the downgrades to difficulty and upgrades to rewards for PvE in Heart of Thorns, if map chat is anything to go by people there are even happier.


No longer do you need to commit a minimum of an hour, maybe as long as two, just to be sure of getting the loot you came for. Participation has been replaced by straightforward as-it-happens, by the event rewards. You can drop in, do two or three events and leave or you can stay all day; it's up to you. Either way you get something worth having.

And what you get has improved. A lot. The reward tables have been fleshed out and plumped up. The various chests have more in them and better. The event rewards have a chance for desirable drops including Ascended items. The rate at which the various map currencies accrue is many times faster.

There's a permanent 50% increase in xp for killing mobs, the hated "diminishing returns" debuff that discouraged farming and grinding is gone, there's increased frequency of access and reduced difficulty for Adventures.  Many existing events have been restructured and many new events added to facilitate solo and small group play.



I soloed one Veteran mob last night that was flagged as an event. It took about twenty seconds (berserker staff ele - ymmv) and I got better rewards than I would have expected from fifteen or twenty minutes of Old HoT.

Oh, and you now get a free upgrade to level 80 with every purchase of Heart of Thorns, complete with all the gear you need and all the waypoints opened so you can jump straight into the expansion content without any of that tedious leveling nonsense. If you already have HoT and all your character slots are filled with 80s, don't worry - you get a big pack of goodies including dyes and some gold.

ANet are on a major love offensive with this update, that's obvious. The "new" regime is clearly prepared to break with any and all of the precepts of the team that got us to where we were until last Tuesday. The new mantra is "give the punters what they want". We even got autoloot in WvW and our old fireball graphics back. It's almost as though someone was actually listening to feedback!

Take dungeons: I don't do them myself so I have no anecdotal evidence to offer but it looks as though there has been a complete climb down on the aggressive decision taken months ago to all but kill that game mode off. Now the talk is all about how that was "unnecessary" and there are new rewards and plenty of encouragement to get back underground.

There's more - a lot more. It's all in the mother of all patch notes if anyone wants the full details.  The key takeaway, though, is that this seems to be about the best-received update I can remember for the game and that's almost entirely down to a complete 180 degree change of direction.

This update acknowledges what the majority of players and commentators have been saying for half a year or more: Heart of Thorns was misconceived, aimed at the wrong demographic (and missed it, too) and was bad for the future of the game. I actually liked HoT a lot more than I expected but I'm certain I'd have liked it a lot more, even than that, had it launched in this latest version.

The "Buy Heart of Thorns" pop up is back in the corner of the screen for my non-HoT accounts. Having done the unpleasant and humiliating work to make the expansion more palatable to those players who voted without their wallets, ANet naturally want to reap the reward of more sales.

I would already have recommended HoT because, as I said, I've enjoyed it and I feel I got my money's worth long ago. This re-envisioning is even easier to recommend. It's slicker, more polished, better-targeted and more accessible. Whereas I previously had no plans to add HoT to my second or third accounts, not because of the value but because I wouldn't have wanted to repeat the required grind, now it's quite likely that one or both will receive the upgrade at some point.

GW2's Spring Update isn't a second coming on the scale of FFXIV:A Realm Reborn but it's a major change of direction that bodes very favorably indeed for the second expansion. If they really have learned their lesson, as, on this evidence, it appears they may have, then the next expansion could be a real cracker!










Legends Of Norrath Now Requires A Standalone Client : EQ, EQ2

The Patch Notes for EQ2's upcoming Scourged Wastes update are available right now for the Test server, although the patch itself hasn't yet arrived. I learned this as always from the invaluable EQ2Wire. It's Update 100, which might explain why it's such a major content release, although if so Marketing has been surprisingly shy about making a big deal out of that triple-digit landmark.

As I was waking up and drinking my morning tea (black, no sugar, thanks) I was jolted awake by this line in the patch notes:

Removed the embedded Legends of Norrath (LoN) client from the EverQuest II client. If you wish to continue playing LoN, please download and use the standalone client available at www.legendsofnorrath.com.

Feldon doesn't comment but it strikes me that this is quite significant. Or could be.

Ever since LoN went live back in 2007 its main function has been to provide in-game loot for EverQuest and EQ2 players. Oh, there was a time when significant numbers of people played Legends of Norrath as a game in its own right and for all I know they may still, although I'd want to see some convincing evidence before I'd believe it.

As far as I can recall it has always been playable outside of the game from a standalone client although I have never until today even visited the web page, much less thought of installing it.

When LoN first appeared in game I played through the tutorial, which I remember finding very confusing. I never progressed as far as a match against another player. After a couple of desultory games with the AI I gave up on LoN as a game-within-a-game and thereafter never gave it much thought other than as a source of free stuff via the occasional Loot Card.

There was a period when LoN provided actual dropped loot in game, too. Back in 2007, which seems insanely longer ago than nine years as I recover these memories, I must still have been playing EverQuest as my primary MMORPG, because I clearly recall Booster Packs for LoN dropping as loot from mobs while I was hunting in the Crypt of Nadox and other Legacy of Ykesha zones.

Those packs were tradeable and they sold for big money on the broker back then. Not, I think, because anyone wanted to expand their deck to play LoN. No, the premium price was for the chance of getting something like the Bot Made Ice Cream Cart , still one of the coolest items ever added to the game and one of the very, very few I have always coveted.

At some point, either at the beginning or very early on (I can't recall which and the brief wiki entry doesn't mention it) a stipend of five LoN cards per month was included with the All Access sub. Ever since then opening and hoping has been a monthly ritual of my EQ and/or EQ2 gameplay.

Over the years I've had a few nice "drops" including mounts and houses although never the elusive ice-cream cart. A while back the rules were changed so that you had to log in each month and claim the free cards (also your 500 Station Daybreak Cash) because the entitlement no longer rolled over and since then I don't think I've missed a month.


The terse patch note doesn't mention anything about the stipend but I have to wonder: if the games have been de-coupled, what is the future for the free packs? I'd like to know.

I did try logging in to test it for myself but although the patch notes may be up the patch itself is not. The process for logging in to Test is unbelievably easier and smoother than it used to be back when I played, though, so I'll try again later.

In the meantime I've downloaded and installed the standalone client and tried it out. It seems identical to the in-game version except that it's slower and very laggy. You'd think that would be the other way around.

I opened packs until I got a Loot Card. It took me seven tries, which is about average in my experience. The loot is now in my account Claim list so I guess that, for now at least, the only substantive change is the access method required.

I'm off to post about it on the forum. It seems like something that should have been handled a little more sensitively than with just a line in the Test server patch notes but that's SOE/DBG all over.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Keep Taking The Tablets

The list of MMOs that I like to imagine I'm still playing that was included in Saturday's post, stopped at a nice, round dozen. The thirteenth seat at the table could have been taken by a number of other titles but the front runners might easily have been Allods or Villagers and Heroes.

Allods is a game I have never given as much time as I would have liked. Mrs Bhagpuss and I played it in beta and enjoyed it a great deal. For a while it was effectively the main MMO we were playing. We each had several characters and we leveled into the mid-thirties, far enough to see some dungeons and take part in the mid-game's open world, non-consensual PvP.

Those characters, of course, were all wiped when the beta ended. We re-rolled for launch but second time around we didn't last long. As I remember, it wasn't the infamous cash-shop shenanigans that put us off, just the usual "I just did all this last month" beta-tester's ennui.

That was Mrs Bhagpuss's last run at Allods but I've been back twice more. The first time was to take a look at the soviet-inspired Empire side of the fence, having always played League before. The second was both to try the new race and its starter area and to test out the viability of playing a full scale MMO on my new 10" Windows tablet.

The concept of playing MMOs on mobile devices has fascinated me for a long time. I first blogged about it back in 2012, when I was playing Pocket Legends and Elemental Knights on my iPod Touch. I'm still using that iPod to listen to music and podcasts and I even occasionally watch YouTube but I stopped gaming on it not long after I wrote that post.

At the time I thought it was the combination of small screen size and not particularly interesting games that made playing an MMO a less-than attractive option for lunch-times and commutes. That explanation didn't hold up very well when I got a tablet capable of playing full-scale MMORPGs like Allods and even WoW.

Of course, MMOs made for the PC aren't generally optimized for touch-screen gaming. WoW plays smoothly on my tablet, which is easily powerful enough to run it, but to play normally I need to attach a mouse and keyboard, by which point I am effectively playing on a netbook.

There are apps that you can install to emulate mobile controls for PC games and I have tried a couple but although they work to a degree the whole process feels awkward. Allods turned out to be the most enjoyable of the MMOs I tried on the tablet because all the innate PC controls that allow for click-to-move or click-to-use seem to respond perfectly as touch-to-move or touch-to-use.

So, I could play Allods comfortably on my tablet, it looked great and I like the game. And yet I only played it a couple of times then forgot all about it. It seems that I don't really want to play MMOS, or any other games, during those short periods of free time I have during the working day, after all. Turns out I'd rather read a book or web-browse.

I only thought about gaming on the go again this weekend for two reasons: the first was when MassivelyOP reported that another MMO I like and wish I'd found time to play more of, Villagers and Heroes, is getting a full port to the Android platform. The other was I dropped my tablet and broke it.

The damage isn't as bad as when I was vigorously cleaning the screen of my first ever tablet and snapped the glass in two. This time it's only the digitizer that's busted. That can be replaced although I probably won't bother. The tablet still has a useful life ahead of it if I simply attach it to a monitor with an HDMI cable. I might set it up like that in the kitchen. There are certainly enough spare monitors lying around this house...

 Following the life/lemons/lemonade principle I used the accident as an opportunity to upgrade. I found something with a much better display, a more powerful cpu and graphics and more memory for almost exactly what the tablet I dropped cost a year ago. That's technology for you.

Best of all, the replacement comes with a dual-boot option, Android and Windows, already installed. That should give me the fullest access to whatever the next couple of years holds for mobile gaming, short of anything that releases as an iPad exclusive.

It will be interesting to see what the new tablet can cope with. Black Desert, for example, could be an ideal mobile MMO with its extensive range of automated options and afk processes. Then there's GW2, which has a highly paternalistic patcher that refuses to run if it finds your system doesn't meet its exacting standards. The old tablet couldn't pass the examination but if the new one can it would be handy to be able to log in at work if just to be able to chat in guild.

Having both Android and Windows on the same tablet gives me carte blanche to play just about anything. Several titles I've looked at over the last year, but which were only available for Android and iOS, might come into play. I'll definitely install V&H when the mobile version becomes available and if Nexon ever release the FFXI mobile port they are supposedly working on for Square, I'll definitely be trying that. (All the cool kids are into FFXI right now, didn't you know?)

In the end, though, I suspect that, no matter how good the choice of MMOs becomes, how powerful and affordable the hardware gets, however smoothly and efficiently everything runs, I'll always end up choosing to use my tablet for something other than gaming. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

On the other hand, it's also nice to have a choice. It seems like, after a number of false starts and failed promises, the age of the Mobile MMO might be here at last. I'd rather be able to play MMOs on my tablet and not want to than want to and not be able.

Conspicuous non-consumption! it's the post-capitalist way!








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