January 20, 2009

Predictions for the next content patch

I haven't posted in a while, but right now I feel like getting out my magic crystal sphere and gaze into the future. And I see priest changes!

1) Raid-wide Prayer of Healing

Prayer of Healing will become a smart heal that is now longer restricted to your group. Instead it will work like Circle of Healing, healing the 5 players with the highest health-deficit in your raid. Indicators that this change is in the pipeline are the general trend to make spells and buffs raid-wide. Basically it will become Circle of Healing with a casting time but no cooldown.

2) Divine Spirit and Fortitude will become auras

With the coming dual-spec feature the talents for group-wide buffs are tricky. With dual-specs you could have one spec to buff other players (the buff spec) and then switch to your raid spec without these talent points "wasted".

When you switch specs the buff on yourself could be removed. But it is basically impossible to remove the buffs on all players that you previously cast it on. Just believe me on this - the WoW-engine can't do that right now and Blizzard will not go to the endless pain to implement buff-erasing and have it work for people not in your raid or outside the instance. So the buffs would stay on everyone, even after you switch specs. And that would be bad since this would basically force the raiders to have a spec with all the buffs and one spec with all the non-buff raiding talents. You end up with being forced into what is basically one big spec split into one raid-spec and a buff-spec where you have to spend a certain amount of points to get all the buffs that can be cast before the fight starts.

Instead the spells will change into an aura that you cast on yourself. The basic single-person version of the buff will become "self only", while the group-wise one will affect your whole group/raid and has a huge range. If you switch specs then the aura is cancelled and you have to recast it (if you still have the required talent). The single-person version will be self only since otherwise you could still one-by-one buff every single player in your raid with the buff-spec. And that would be an even bigger torment than just being forced to have a "buff spec".

This might also affect Shadow Protection, even though there is no talent to improve that one (yet). And if my prediction comes true then this will also affect other talented buffs for other classes such as Druid's Improved Mark of the Wild.

3) ?

More visions of the future will hopefully come to me real soon. :)

May 20, 2008

Tapping multiple content sources

With the developers of WoW, LotRO, and AoC all churning away at content upgrades and improvements there shouldn't be much to complain about in terms of lack of stuff to explore. And if you throw in the upcoming games like Warhammer Online and Stargate Worlds plus "oldies" like Everquest II and EVE Online then it gets downright scary. So much content, so little time to play.

One side-effect of this abundance of content might become that fewer people will go for endgame treadmills such as raiding or faction grinding. For people who like to explore new stuff it makes sense to switch to another game when running out of easily accessible content. Some will find it impossible to resist the temptation of unexplored places.

Maybe it is the WoW burnout still affecting me, but I can't imagine ever going back to raiding 3-4 evenings a week. Raiding occasionally is still fun for me, but the constant farming of the same raid instances to gear up is not going to lure me back into hardcore raiding. And daily quests? I can't believe I thought these were a good idea.

Why should I do the same stuff over and over again? I could be off exploring in another game instead! If I run out of content in one game I stop my subscription for it and switch to another one that has had a content upgrade while I was away. Kind of a crop rotation system that prevents burnout with any single game.

I think the raiding guilds/kinships in WoW and LotRO are going to be in an especially rough spot for a few months. There will be a high outflux of experienced players.

Hopefully the game companies will adjust to the higher amount of competition. LotRO will probably be hit hard over the next few weeks while AoC is new and shiny. Later on this year AoC's player base will shrink when WHO hits and the other games release their expansions. And even for Blizzard the easy days of a growing playerbase without real effort might be nearing their end.

Age of Conan looks like a keeper

It looks like the Early Access for Age of Conan is a success. All reports indicate that the servers are working, clients are mostly stable, and the game seems to offer some fun.

What it doesn't appear to be is a "WoW-killer". At least not in the PvE parts. The gameplay is the usual mix of playing an errand boy, do "kill ten rats" quests, finish the storyline quest-arcs, and all the other typical MMORPG stuff. My impression from the early reviews is that it is basically a solid WoW clone with a different style of graphics. And that is fine with me!

Fresh content and a gameplay that doesn't suck makes it is a winner in my book. I won't rush out and buy it asap, but will rather give it two or three months to mature. There is still a lot of content for me to explore in LotRO till then. And I will probably need a new computer to enjoy the gorgeous graphics as more than a five-frames-per-second slideshow.

May 16, 2008

Waiting for the next big MMORPG

The early access phase of Age of Conan is starting tomorrow and I am kind of giddy with anticipation. Not because I am participating (I am not), but because I am interested in hearing how it goes.

I hope the game gets off to a nice start and is fun to play. Any competition to WoW can only help the genre. And it would provide me with a game that is worthwhile to try out when I get tired of LotRO.

The time couldn't be better for the release of a big MMORPG. Many of the WoW players are sick and tired of the game after three years. Other titles such as Warhammer Online, Stargate Worlds, or addons like Wrath of the Lich King and Mines of Moria are still months away. There is a good chance for a success if the game is solid.

But the reports from the beta about stability and performance have been very mixed and some of the concepts of the game seem flawed to me.

As far as I know every character starts in the same area, a town called Tortage, and is stuck there for the first 20 levels. For an explorer-type person like me who also likes to create lots of alts this sounds like a very very stupid idea. I hope they make that part optional after you have the first character out of the starting area.

Another thing that has me worried is the game's focus on PvP. I am a carebear and not overly interested in PvP. I haven't really read up on the distinction between PvE and PvP servers yet. To get me to try the game it has to offer a ganking-free environment on the PvE servers. From what I know the PvP server are free-for-all PvP without any factions. Every other player is a potential enemy. And that sounds like pure hell to me. I pray that the PvE servers are far less hardcore.

As many others out there I am now waiting for the first reports from players to trickle in. I can't do much more than wish Funcom good luck - don't screw it up! Another successful MMORPG to play would make me happy. And probably a lot of hardware vendors as well since the system requirements for the game are kind of insane.

Insta-cast goodness

Minstrels in LotRO are the primary healing class. But they also have pretty good soloing abilities. One thing I love about dps'ing my Minstrel is the huge number of ranged instant-cast nukes that I've got. Basically every single dps skill is a insta-cast. The ability to use dps skills while moving makes for a very mobile gameplay - a stark contrast to most other casters I have played so far. And I have to say that I absolutely love that.

If I get back to WoW then I will probably have to give moonkins a serious try.

Another thing is that the Minstrel skill-system is nicely designed. You have to think a bit instead of just spamming a single button. All the dps skills have a short cooldown. And they all have a buff or debuff component that makes picking a spell rotation interesting. Do I want the attack speed buff, more armour, or the extra damage debuff on the target?

Kirana, the hobbit minstrel

For the last few weeks I have mainly been playing Lord of the Rings Online. I actually started playing it about a year ago while I had my last WoW-burnout, but then took a long break again when the burnout symptoms subsided. Now I am back and enjoying my stay in Middle-Earth.

I can say that LotRO is a whole lot of fun. As a Tolkien fan I was blown away by the atmosphere, especially in the Shire. The hobbit NPCs do "hobbitish" things and give quests that are very fitting for a hobbit lifestyle. It simply looks and feels great - a place where I would like to settle down and enjoy the beer and food.

And the contrast in the atmosphere from the serene Shire to scary places like the Old Forest is very striking. The screen gets darker, the background music changes to ominous tunes, and the whole world seems to close up around you, trapping you in fog and the encroaching trees. A hobbit stumbling in there for the first time will surely shake in his boots, err ... have the hair on his feet stand up (yes, Kirana is going barefoot as is proper for a hobbit).

I find myself standing awestruck a lot while exploring the world, whether from the beautiful sight of a rainbow while standing in front of Bags End, or the feeling of dread in the Barrow Downs.

The instances I have visited so far, mainly as part of the epic story quest line, are also beautifully crafted. Unlike most WoW instances there is always a story going on inside the instance, with NPCs and scripted events leading from one encounter to the next. The only WoW instance that comes close to this feeling of an actual storyline is Old Hillsbrad, while most of the others WoW instances are just places where a boss happens to wait for you to come and kill him for loot.

My favourite instance so far was the level 15 class quest for my Hobbit Minstrel. That one involves a hobbit who had his lunch stolen by brigands. You help him face the thieves, reclaim his roast, and later write and perform a song about this little adventure. I don't want to spoil it - it is so funny that I was roaring with laughter by the end.

April 21, 2008

The Blizzard sleeps tonight

I still have hope that Blizzard might finally pull their thumbs out of their asses and add some new content. WotLK should have been out ages ago if you consider the original plans for "one expansion each year". I think they are dragging their feet since there is not much in terms of competition from other MMORPGs at the moment. The upcoming releases of Age of Conan and Warhammer Online might trigger some frantic content upgrades by Blizzard.

The current list of known features in WotLK is kind of underwhelming, especially considering the insane amount of money that should be available for the development. Hopefully Blizzard will put some more beef on the table, since 10 new levels worth of content and a single new class are slim pickings when you stretch it out over the amount of time that the content probably has to last for.

There are still tons of areas of WoW lore left to explore, like the Emerald Dream, or the Maelstrom. And the Caverns of Time are the perfect device to replay each and every major encounter of the Warcraft history. I really hope Blizzard switches development into a higher gear soon.