MMO

Elite: Dangerous (p)Review

Astronaut Pianist, Obvs.

Astronaut Pianist, Obvs.

Scottish Highlands. Christmas.  1984.

Bemused parents indulge a child in her somewhat atypical (or so was believed for the time) interest in both Outer-Space and “Computer Games” – a fairly natural progression from the previous year’s SuperGirl costume request.  For a computer game of the time it seemed to be absurdly expensive  – £12.99.  Previous parental protestations of “but you’ve enough games!”  – surely an impossibility when the family computer is a BBC Micro (Dad had aspirations of poshness) – are put aside, and there was always the hope that at least one of the children might become a “Computer Expert” in the future, and allow aforementioned parents to retire early.

Hopes, alas, STILL not fulfilled!

 

Even the box was impressive.

The game was “Elite” – now of course so well known (or not?) as the defining sandbox game (in SPACE!)

I must admit to not being very good at the game – I don’t think I ever really made it much past “Mostly Harmless” – the game’s stat tracker for your spaceship killing prowess, “Elite” being the pinnacle.  But being 10 years old, I had a blast trying to dock my spaceship, and jumping onto my escape-pod (bed) when I thought I was about to fail.  Nevertheless, I knew a good game when I saw one, and enjoyed much play with it before a rogue coffee killed the computer.  It would be replaced by a C64, and arcade games.

However, a soft spot was kept for Elite, and I would look in on the various ports as I got older and watched 16-bit come and go, space games go Epic (Wing Commander) and then die a near total death but for wee stalwart indie coders.   Then David Braben came along with a Kickstarter, and promise of a 21st Century relaunch of Elite with ALL THE GRAPHICS, and lo, my long dormant space-heart gave a flutter.

 

Here then, is my preview of Elite: Dangerous (Beta V1):

David-Braben-Announces-Elite-Dangerous-via-Kickstarter-2

As I write this, the next release of the beta is due for release, and promises much more content and an increase from 50 or so systems to explore/trade in/fight in/get lost in to a somewhat more sizeable 500 odd.  We’re now approaching a decent sized gameworld to explore, but still only the merest fraction of what will be available at final release (due this year) – a procedurally generated 400 billion.

However, I’ve got ahead of myself – let me explain what Elite: Dangerous is, should you not be familiar with this great-grandparent of the open world sandbox game genre.

Elite is a first-person sci-fi space-based pseudo-GTA.  That little soundbite is misleading, but mostly accurate aside from the car-jacking, violence, and “of the moment” bangin’ soundtrack.  By first-person, I mean that the game world is viewed from your – as yet non-customizable aside from gender –  in-game avatar’s viewpoint, exclusively from the cockpit seat of your spaceship.  Planned post-release DLC will have you wandering about your ship and space-stations, but for now you are a somewhat alarmingly headless body sat in a seat, and invisible to other players.

HighResScreenShot_2014-09-27_15-23-38

At the start of the game, You – The Plucky Player – are a spacefaring person, gifted with a basic starship of modest capabilities.  By modest I mean that it has 4 tonnes cargo capacity, 2 gun mounts, and a couple of spare utility mounts.  These are used for some purchasable (using earned in-game credits) additional upgrades.  For example – a “Heat Sink” a deployable dump of your ship’s waste heat produce, used both as a decoy, and a way to vastly reduce your visible radar signature – which when used in conjunction with “silent running” mode, essentially making you temporarily invisible, complete with neat slow frosting of your canopy glass.

Later upgrades include missiles, beam weapons, and Battlestar Galactica-style projectile cannons, but also non-combat upgrades like a docking-computer.

Docking computer you say?  Yes, one of Elite’s notorious legacies is the fact that when docking your ship with the giant space-stations which in order to generate gravity… rotate.  You have to navigate your suddenly giant-feeling spacecraft through the most apparently narrowest of letterboxes to enter the safety of the station’s landing pads.  It’s deceptive in that the entrances are actually pretty large, but you get the distinct feeling of little headroom until you get a feel for your ship’s physical dimensions – no exterior views yet.

We're going to need a bigger door.

We’re going to need a bigger door.

Back in the original 8 and 16-bit incarnations of the game this was especially difficult as there were few analogue control surfaces to use.  For my part I used to point at the entrance, put the engines on minimum, and hope for the best – inevitably jumping in to my aforementioned escape pod (bed) when things went disastrously wrong.  (You could actually buy an escape pod, but I never made that much money!)  Today, things are different, we all have mice, gamepads, and even Flight-sticks that allow much more precise control of rotation and whatnot.

Old School.

Crashin’ it. Old School.

Speaking of rotation – the flight model is a curious one, in that it’s a blend of super-fun-sci-fi Star Wars type jet-fighter style, with bonus Physics™ – but with the option to switch off (and on, at a whim) “Flight Assist” – which basically makes the control system entirely “Newtonian Physics” – requiring you to apply reverse thrust to bring your craft to a halt, and apply inverse directional thrusters to counteract the proportional amount of…  look, just watch 2001: A space odyssey, or GRAVITY, then you’ll know what I’m talking about 😉  I find it horribly complicated to fly the ship with Flight-Assist off, others love it (mostly those who grew up with Elite’s 16-bit sequels: Frontier and First Encounters) – but it does have its uses.  Fancy pulling off Babylon 5 and BSG style flip-around whilst still moving in the same direction, allowing you to fire at a chasing attacker whilst still moving away from them?  Flight assist off… just remember to correct your spin with your thrusters!

I say! Did you just cut me up?

I say! Did you just cut me up?

So, what’s the plot?  There isn’t one, at least not yet anyway.  You’re basically plonked into your ship with no direction.  At the beginning, the point is pretty much to Make Money.  Money = ship upgrades.  More Money= better ships.  That’s largely it for the moment, in the beta anyway.  In the beta money is earned from various activities, more of which will be available as the game develops.  For now, here’s a few examples:

Trading products between planetary systems – a full commerce system is in place in the game, fluid and dynamic.  One system might have high demand for farming equipment, and pay a high price to buy from anyone able to transport them in.  The player might find a system whereby Farming equipment is cheap-as-chips, buy as many as they can afford and their ship’s cargo-bay hold, travel to the high-demand system, and make considerable profit.  Whilst there, they might find something sold there that is in low-demand, ergo cheap, which they can sell back at another system for a higher-price.  Trading like this can be slow-work, but it’s a good safe way to make money.  There’s also the possibility of buying something legal in one system, but illegal in another, sold to the black market at considerable profit.  That runs the risk however of the Space-Cops scanning your ship for contraband, and a: fining you or b: not asking questions and just blowing you away.

Bounty Hunter is another money-making method, though is obviously quite a bit more dangerous than being a Space-Trucker.  Check the local station bulletin boards for jobs, then head off to look for The Mark(s) – earning cash for their destruction.  There’s also considerably less legal assassination jobs to be had, though these can render you a wanted renegade in certain regions of space.  You can also fly out to some notable pilot hangouts – e.g. “Resource Gathering Sites” – where player’s go to mine for minerals etc – spot someone with a “Wanted” tag?  Take them out, earn some bucks.

Mining – take an appropriately configured vessel to mine materials from asteroids in the aforementioned Resource areas.  Watch out for thieves and bandits tho.

Courier missions – similar to trading, but often you’ll be given cargo directly to deliver to some other location.  The fee paid will be affected by how far it has to go, and whether or not you might have to avoid any “Imperial entanglements” to deal with… or Federation, for that matter.  The Imps and the Feds are the two primary factions in our Sci-Fi world here.

'Sup guys? Whatchadooin?

‘Sup guys? Whatchadooin?

So – already there’s a fair bit to do, much more is planned closer to and post-release, including World Events.  There’s already been a couple of these with a civil war breaking out between two systems, precipitated by nefarious underhand guerilla warfare missions offered to the player, and pleas for certain items of produce to be smuggled in and out.

Now here’s the interesting bit with this new generation of Elite as a game.  It’s multiplayer.  Also, it’s optionally singleplayer… but with the repercussions of the events in the multiplayer.  How so?

Well, you can choose to play the game in full multiplayer – Open Play – out there with all the other players.  That means all the usual caveats..  Trolls, Griefers, heroic saviours, co-op wingpersons, trading buddies, Clumsy docking, rage-quits et all.

Or…. You can play solo in an NPC-AI populated universe, but with the same world-state (politically and economically) as the multiplayer, but without the human player element.  This is actually a great idea,  and especially useful at the start of play when you’re getting to grips with the game mechanics and trying to earn a bit of money to get going.  Penalties are the same as multiplayer, however – you earn enough cash to buy that big new fancy Lakon-9 hauler freighter, but accidentally push the booster button and crash headlong in to the side of a station…  you lose the ship, and any cargo aboard and have to restart over with any remaining cash with the default freebie ship… unless you had enough spare cash left over to cover the insurance cost of the replacement ship!

You can also currently bounce between solo and open-play multiplayer modes, which could be perceived to be a bit of a cheat.  Build up to awesomeness in solo, pwn in multiplayer.  Except you wouldn’t be alone in doing that.  Stuff gets too heavy in multi? Back off in to solo.

For now, however, multiplayer in terms of co-operative player interaction is still very much in its infancy.  The developers recently added inter-player text and voice comms, but it still needs a bit of work, as well as willing players.  Getting together with one or more friends though seems like a really exciting way to plunder the depths and wealth of the game, especially as the content increases in the run-up to release with options like actual recognized deep-space exploration being a career!  Of course there will be “EVE-online” faction wars and such like, which could have huge potential for multiplayer… but you might be an everyman/everywoman who just wants to get on and stay out of the war.

Planned DLC for the game post-release includes adding features like player avatar movement within your own ship and stations,  planetary surfaces (including obviously landing on said surfaces with your ship), multiplayer crewing of your vessel, and more.  That complete set of features would be beyond even the imagination of my 7 year old would-be astronaut self  – and I used my imagination A LOT to greatly expand what was on screen with those black and white vectors, I really can’t wait.

Ultra-detailed interiors already.

Ultra-detailed interiors already.

However, it’s not all joy and happiness.  You’ll either love or loathe the control systems.  It will very much depend on what you decide to use.  Elite is definitely targeted in the main towards using a flight stick/throttle controller.  After that there’s options for gamepads, and good old mouse+keyboard.   I’ve tried mouse control.  It didn’t end well.  Or start well, for that matter.  Yet others thrive using it.

The Head-up-Display (HUD) in-game can cause consternation.  Its meant to be a holographic display whereby you turn to look at the relevant area for it to appear, using your controller to select options therein.  I found this quite cumbersome until you’ve customized your controller of choice to quick-switch between the three primary menus.

And…..  multiplayer.   Like anywhere else, players can and will piss you off.  Not all the mechanics for literal policing of player behaviour is in place.  E.g. you’ll enter a system with police patrols, but they won’t always help you in time if you’re attacked by another player or NPC.  But hey, maybe that’s realistic!

Also… It’s a beta at the moment, so it *will* crash, sooner or later, and stuff will be buggy, or act strange.  I’ve been in my ship, happily parked on a landing pad only to have the station literally disappear out from under me, like Babylon 4 😉  But there’s also stuff that happens where you think… hmmm.. that’s cool.. I might be able to use that… like bringing yourself out of “Supercruise” too close to your destination only to find yourself INSIDE the station.. with only a few seconds before the intruder alarm goes off, and the cops blast you into oblivion.

Wonder if that's LV-426?

Wonder if that’s LV-426?

Speaking of “Supercruise” – some of the game mechanics might cause consternation too.  Hyperspace is the method used to travel vast distances between systems, fuel allowing.  Once arrived, you are stopped in the system by the largest planetary body, still very far away from your actual desired destination – usually a space station.  So, to speed up the travel to your “Final Destination” your ship has a mode called “Supercruise” a sort of very high speed but not quite hyperspace mode, where you designate your target destination from your HUD, and engage the drive.  What you then have is a manually controlled acceleration and steering to your  target requiring you to slow down as you close distance, disengaging the drive at a point of your choosing.  Where this can frustrate is that it’s very easy to get impatient and over accelerate, causing you to be unable to slow down in time,  therefore overshooting the target, meaning you have to pull a big turn to bring you back around, hopefully slowing down this time.  A lot people are NOT happy about supercruise, they want some form of autopilot.  I think this comes from the pseudo-MMO nature of the game.  In many other MMO’s there’s auto-run options that mean you can effectively distract yourself with something else whilst still keeping one eye on the game.  Not so in Elite.  Look away at your peril.  I suspect, however, that the Devs may make a purchasable auto-cruise system, as it could actually add to the immersion.  Think Star Wars and the Millennium Falcon crew dossing about in the lounge, but getting a warning to tell them that they’re approaching destination/under attack/out of hydrospanners.

So much is forgivable however, whilst the game is in Beta.  It’s certainly nearly cooked, but it is most definitely still in the oven.  Visually it’s a treat, and pretty scalable in terms of performance.  Aurally it’s an absolute stunner.  The sound design is utterly amazing, hugely putting you “in the picture” – the music is a bit generic Space-Opera at the moment, but hopefully will improve… or you can do what I do… put on an ambient/spacemusic radio stream!

kara-viper1

You have to pay a bit of a premium to get on board this currently PC-only spaceparty at the moment.  £50 at present, final release will be £35 for the game and then more for the proposed DLC.   I hope that we can have a few more women to play the game, as Space feels very much a bro-verse so far, and I hope to have a full gender spectrum conglomerate to fly with post-release.  As release gets nearer though, I can already feel The Shape of Things To Come in the imagined vibration of the ship’s hull, and my inner 10-year old astronaut self is getting very excited indeed about her childhood dreams becoming virtually realized! 🙂  Speaking of which…

 

 

Addendum:  VR – THE GAME CHANGER

Space.  It's big.

Space. It’s big.

Elite: Dangerous as it stands is a hugely promising sci-fi space game, built on a prominent legacy, and coming at a time where the combined genres of Spaceship and Flight-Sim games are enjoying a bit of a renaissance.  Elite is certainly a hugely enjoyable game already, promising much more at release.  However, everything changes when the game is experienced via a Virtual Reality Head-Mounted Display.  I’m lucky enough to have obtained an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, and I knew that Elite had been given optional configuration for play on these devices.  It’s a bit clunky, a bit buggy, and plays sheer hell with even high-spec gaming PCs…. But…  never before have I *ever* experienced anything like it.  It is a completely different experience playing the game in VR.  Background starfields and planets are no longer just background.  They are there.  Right there, outside your suddenly very real feeling ship’s canopy.  The canopy complete with the handles you feel you must be able to reach out and touch.  The glass of the canopy feels like it’s mere inches away from your head, and whilst the planet beyond the canopy is probably millions of miles away.. it is most definitely OUTSIDE your canopy, millions of miles away and huge.  Huge beyond your normal comprehension of the definition of the term.

"They should've sent a poet..."

“They should’ve sent a poet…”

This is because everything is rendered to scale in the VR incarnation of Elite.  I look down and see arms, and hands gripping controls just like mine.  I’m completely bamboozled when I raise a hand to scratch my nose… but my virtual hands remain in place.  I’ve emerged from a space-station in my ship innumerable times playing on the monitor to the same scene.. only to come to a dead halt in the same location when playing in VR, agog at the awe-inspiring majesty of the apparent infinity of space, and the sight of a sun emerging behind a Saturn-like planetary body surrounded by a ring of debris.  In combat, rather than wrestling with mouselook controls to try and get a bead on a ship I’m pursuing, I merely follow its progress with my head and eyes, craning over my shoulder as I bring the ship into a steep turn to follow it, my head turning as I bring the enemy back towards the front of my ship as I open fire to finish it, then ducking instinctively as a piece of the ship debris bounces off the top of my canopy.

And those HUD nuisances I mentioned earlier?  Rendered moot when you simply look to your left or right to activate them!

This time around, I think VR is going to be huge, and I think it will be accessible, especially if Sony can bring their “Project Morpheus” VR headset to fruition for PS4 players, where hopefully players will be able to join in the Elite: Dangerous world (as project leader David Braben has hinted as an option) –but also most especially as the Oculus Rift matures for PC owners.  Like Morpheus said about “The Matrix”… “no one can be told what (VR) is, you have to see it.”

10166365646_9d9a2ea50c_b2

Where’s my coffee mug?

 

Advertisements

Guild Wars 2

What follows is a little background on my MMO playing experiences, you can skip direct to the Guild Wars 2 review below if you want 😀

Early in 2005 I remember seeing a game being covered a lot in the gaming magazine press of the time, how it was going to be a multiplayer game of unprecedented scale, giving rebirth to a term that had been used before, but by comparison most assuredly inappropriately until this game’s release; MMORPG.  Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.  The game – ofcourse – was World of Warcraft.  Now, the game itself and coverage thereof had not been enough to twitch the interest-o-meter for me by much, as whilst I like the fantasy genre, I was not au-fait with the Warcraft universe, so I felt no immediate compulsion to investigate further.  However, a friend had already been playing it for quite a while, and offered a 10-day free trial.. so I gave it a go.

This first foray into the (the fortunately now abbreviated) MMO genre proved to be of mixed value.  Certainly at the time WoW was gorgeous to behold.. and so startlingly BIG. The players at this time were mostly the typically serious RPG types, which made for a very atmospheric experience, but.. it really wasn’t grabbing me that much.

WoW nostalgia

I felt I needed to join a guild, or better yet my have my gaming friends get on board too, and a couple of them did so (like some sort of tri-pledge.. we shall three buy this game *cackle*) and lo, we began playing proper.   Well, suffice to say that the fun really began then, as the three of us played our way through the game solidly for 3-4 months – or I did anyway, my compatriots would continue to play on and off for many years beyond – and it was great.  Working together, we ploughed our way through the first 30 levels or so, enjoying the exploration, discovery, and unlocking of various treats.  However,  my available time to play the game was considerably less than my friends, and I soon fell behind their inexorable levelling-up, though even this didn’t diminish my enjoyment;  but my interest did begin to wane, and the £6 per month subscription fee was feeling unjustified and I eventually retired from play.  I would return to WoW twice more between then and now, the most recent attempt proved to be quite depressing as the game had changed quite drastically due to spammers, and seemingly illiterate, disinterested brats flocking to its now free-to-play early levels.

Over the course of the intervening years I would try to recapture that exciting feeling of collaborative exploration and story with several would-be WoW usurpers.  Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and more than a few Korean sourced free-to-play games. Early on in the investigations, Guild Wars emerged.  It was at the time unique since it operated on a subscription-fee free system.  You bought the game, you played the game.  Sounded like a no-brainer, and I even got the chance to borrow a friend’s copy of the game and try it.  It certainly looked lovely, with a less cartoony look than WoW graphically, but a less fluid feeling of movement.  Being unable to leave a path because of obstructive grass(!) was a bit of an immersion breaker, so after only a bit of levelling.. I abandoned it.

Much later the first real WoW challenger came along as far as I was concerned; Age of Conan.  I really enjoyed my time spent playing it, it looked SOOO nice, and that makes all the difference in terms of wanting to explore a fantasy landscape.  However there were some problems, one of the game’s making, the other more of my own.  First, the game relied heavily on instancing (essentially a zoning-off of various sections of the map to minimize both server and end-user hardware taxing) with multiple instances per zone, which could have the very odd effect of you and your friends occupying the same zone at the same spot… but not seeing each other because you were in different instances.  The other problem was simply that my WoW-cronies weren’t really enamoured with the game, so I didn’t have the camaraderie that I had enjoyed previously, but also somewhat crucially I was no longer a bachelorette, no longer gleefully playing games until 4am – work be damned! – no longer having nor desiring the time to become involved with an MMO so much again, and so…

I abandoned it.

So.  That monstrous pre-amble brings me to Guild Wars 2.

“Aren’t you a little short for a… er.. Necromancer?”

I was fairly put off MMO’s by now (a dalliance with a beta of “The Secret World” recently seemed to cement this opinion), but I was keeping a hopeful optimistic eye on GW2’s development.  It looked beautiful, it was going to retain the no-subscription-fee model – though that is less noteworthy in this day and age of F2P – and it was making a real pitch at offering something familiar, yet different.

I had been drumming up interest with two of my friends – one was the former WoW alumni, the other a WoW-despiser, but fan of Dungeons & Dragons Online, and toe-dipper of Star Trek:Online.. and lo, once again I had a triumvirate of new-game pioneers.  Launch Day MMO play is… an Interesting Time.  You either can’t get on in the first place, or you get on and suffer lag, bugs, and all sorts of quirks, not to mention the sheer bedlam of having a massive number of new players all starting in the various start zones all at the same time!

The map of Tyria – World of Guild Wars – WoGW, if you will…

At the time of writing this tome, it has been 11 days since we installed the game.  I will describe that period in succinct style, using the world-famous “Facial Expression Mood Modifier Encapsulation System – FEMMES, a homage to the classic 8-bit game review magazine Zzap! 64)

Days 1-3: Installation, updating, and initial impressions:

Longest install ever. 2 disks, followed by a 2.2gb update = “Bored, thinking about stuff I could be doing, should go off to make coffee” face.

Slightly frowny face: Limited body-shape customization options for player avatars.

More frowny face: A Couple of the default female player character outfits:

FEMALE FANTASY ARMOUR CLICHE

Ha! My mighty… armour… will save me from your deadly attacks…?

Positive face at standard intuitive MMO (read: WoW) interface and controls.

Slightly disappointed sadface at graphics on highest settings.

Nonplussed, concentrating face at interchangeable weapon/powers interface and use.

So many things… *icons spin to the music of “Vertigo”*

Days 4-7: Settling in.

Zoned-out, nobody home face regarding crafting/skills (by contrast my former DDO chum loves it)

Pondering hopeful face: Create another character of different race and class.

Confused face caused by hearing what I know to be Jennifer “Commander Shepard” Hale’s voice, but not recognizing it in the slightest.  That must be ACTING! 😀

Bored-face.  Not enough collaboration or teaming with friends… feels like the most Minimally Multiplayer Online Game ever. Lots of people doing things, often the same things as you, but separately.

Days 8-11: Do I really like the game, or is it just not working for me?

New character, new class: Raised-hopeful-eyebrow face, this seems to be better!

Smiley face: New class is much more my thing,  and my friends and I are working together again, much more cohesively.

My Bro’s and I, looking Awesome.

RAWR-face! This is great!

There you go.  11 days in, and I’m really enjoying it, and for a multitude of reasons:

1: So far I’ve discovered I only like one (of eight possible) player classes, the other two I tried felt tedious in the extreme to me – when you find the shoe that fits.. its all good.

2: Once you understand the game’s mechanics – which are similar enough yet different to WoW’s to leave you slightly on an off-footing – you can get together with your friends to explore and progress through the game and its landscape very enjoyably.

3: Friends not around? Progress the character class specific single-player storyline which also gains you experience and levels you up, there seems to be less obvious “grinding” in GW2 – its still there, but not as blatant or boring as “kill 20 rats/goblins/thingmabobs” – there are usually multiple ways to complete a given quest.

4: No subscription-fee means no “must get my money’s worth” requirement to play… your friends may level ahead of you (mine are already 10-20 levels ahead of me) but this is less of an annoyance because of the game’s “level playing field” system, which reduces a high player level to the maximum for the area they’re in at the time, though admittedly this is at the expense of the fun-factor of returning to a low-level area when you are a high-level swaggering Goddess, gleefully swatting formerly troublesome wretches that get in your way.  Let them eat cake… and noobs.

5: Combat!  Its fun!  Its a good mix of WoW’s style of gained powers/skills assigned to hotkeys (usually the number keys and clickable on-screen icons) but also featuring Age of Conan style evasive maneuvering.  If you don’t move, you’ll soon be clobbered by higher-level beasties.

Have at you, foul Murloc-impersonator!

6: Quests! They’re.. a bit different.  By which I mean how they’re implemented.  WoW is famous for its bright yellow “!” over quest givers.  GW2 operates something similar yet different.  First, they’re heart icons.  Empty outlines for incomplete quests, solid for complete.  What makes them different is the fact that you don’t have to approach and “talk” to the quest givers in order to participate…  merely being in the zone where the quest is relevant is enough to have you participate.  Want to help that other player fighting the mob?  Do so.  Your contribution helps them without compromising how much XP they gain, as well as gaining you the XP and adding to the fulfilment of the given quest in the zone you happen to be standing, regardless of whether or not you are interested in participating!  Initially I found this to be a little odd, and distancing from the “story” – but it actually works really well.

Better yet are the dynamic events that occur randomly but regularly throughout the different regions.  For example:

You’re ambling around a locale when an “event nearby” notification appears.  It could be that bands of marauding centaurs are assaulting an outpost nearby.  You can involve yourself to help fight them off, gaining generous XP subject to how much you actually contribute to the battle.  Merely being in the place where the event is happening if it’s completed will still gain you XP nonetheless!  Where it gets clever is if players fail to fight off the marauders, and the outpost then becomes *their* outpost!

Me. Ambling. Yesterday.

Things I still don’t like:

1: Instancing. Yes, the game has instanced zones.  Not Age of Conan style, but not quite WoW style either.  Its still a bit of an immersion breaker to have to “portal” between areas beside each other on the map.  Something WoW did that was just so fabulous was the ability to pick a direction to walk in, and just walk.  Loading was seamless aside from specific crossing areas (e.g. by boat) – alas, not so in GW2, but the areas are still pretty large, and with multiple exits/entrances.

2: Graphics. I admit to being a little disappointed with GW2’s looks.  We’ve been seeing lovely videos promising beautiful, atmospheric locales and the like over the last few years, but the actual in-game graphics are a mix of lush, pretty design… on slightly angular polygonal landscapes, with not a huge amount of Bells or Whistles.  Don’t get me wrong – graphics do not a great game make – but they certainly help build an atmosphere, and I felt that the final product was not quite what the marketing was promising. Shocker, I know!  The design ethic, however, is beautiful.  To be fair, I suspect that most attention is spent on key locales, rather than outback wildernesses.

Beautiful artwork on the instance loading screens

3: Maybe its my getting old, or maybe I’m too accustomed to simplistic control systems, but I found GW2’s interchangeable abilities, weapons, and items quite complex and mind-boggling at first.  I *am* getting the hang of it, and enjoy the variety.  It’s also nice that you don’t *have* to meddle in the ways of crafting/skills/etc if you don’t want to, for I am unsubtle and quick to boredom…

4: There are less pleasing MMO staples in this game; emotes are a lot of fun (e.g.  /laugh /cry ) etc even if you’re not doing the whole serious Role-playing thing.  Guild Wars seems to have less than other MMOs I’ve played…

5: Speaking of Role-playing: GW2 seems determined to break atmospheric  immersion with lots of bizarre quirks.  The Human emote /dance results in a very cheesy pseudo-line dancing affair (though admittedly, I’m somewhat a hypocrite, as I *loved* Guild Wars original moves!)  The Trading post (GW2’s both real and virtual money ebay emporium) has amidst its items… Aviator sunglasses?  Baseball caps?

6: I miss Murlocs 😦

“grolgrlgrlgrglrglr” – A Murloc, earlier.

As for The Trading Post – the jury is still out on it.  Something that allows for game items to be bought and sold for game Gold or real £$money has much potential for abuse and game-breaking.  Time will tell… but game-servers cost money, and GW2 is not using the traditional F2P game model, and is therefore likely looking to bolster perpetual revenue however possible.

Verdict:

Guild Wars 2 is an enjoyable game, and a fun MMO, that for me at least has brought back almost all the positive vibe I enjoyed in the heyday of my WoW play, largely through allowing me to enjoy the game with my friends *and* with a clear conscience of no monthly cost to absorb.

Its a game that can be played as solo or grouped with friends as you like, though I suspect you are better off going into the game with known comrades, as in-game interactions with other players seem to be a little limited at present.  Mostly people complaining of lag, but then hasn’t every online game since the dawn of The Internet had those individuals whose purpose in life seem to be to inform us of this?

Ok, I may have been a bit harsh on the graphics…

My gripes about the graphics should be offset by the fact that a less demanding game means less need for super-powerful PC to play it on, which was always WoW’s greatest strength – it was playable on some of the lowliest laptops, assisting WoW to become one of the biggest selling games for the longest time.

It is likely that GW2’s publishers hope to achieve something similar, and I wish them every success, as it appears to me that – finally – there is a new MMO Queen on the throne, long may she reign.


Things to do in gaming when you’re unemployed

Yes, folks. Unemployment has reached out and grabbed me like it grabbed so many Americans. So how does the gamer cope when one’s funds are at a stranglehold?

The gamer does DLC, MMOs, and goes back to old games unfinished. For me, that means: World of Warcraft (50cents a day for one account, people, you don’t get cheaper entertainment then this), Red Dead Redemption, Final Fantasy XIII, Little Big Planet, Dragon Age: Origins, Fallout: New Vegas, and wrapping up the last missions of Mass Effect. So, seriously? Not going to be hurting for keeping myself occupied into the wee hours while I wait for the phone to ring or my unemployment check to hit.

Ironically, I had just bought the Dead Money DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, and loved almost every minute, except for that cheese-ass fight at the end and the race against the clock, which I did not love at all, and which is why I stopped playing it for a while. I have a ton of unfinished or unplayed DLC for Dragon Age. Hell, I think I still have unfinished DLC for Fallout 3.

All of these were pretty cheap, and they provide me with several hours of entertainment. But nothing, nothing beats an MMO subscription. With the average cost about $15 a month, that’s a pretty good per-day cost. Now, not everybody will consider keeping their internet as a non-luxury, but around here if you want to job search without trucking to the library (with gas prices rising, also a craptastic option) you’re going to keep your internet, and cut just about everything else.

Tabletop gaming also remains free, so long as you have the books or can find them on the internet for cheap, or whatever. PDF downloads can be cheap or free, depending on the company, and hey, you just need some pals and some dice.

So I think I’ve got enough to keep me relatively entertained between waiting for rejection letters and interview calls. Here’s hoping I’m not unemployed long enough to finish playing them all, though. That would be quite some time to be unemployed.

~Amanda


I Cho Cho Choose You

We all have our favourites.

Favourite food.
Favourite comics.
Favourite writers.
Favourite guilty pleasure TV show.

Favourite gaming platform.

When we all make a choice, oh wait…erm…okay. When most make a choice of what platform they will favour and play on they have a reason. If you’re me you never make a choice completely. The question is, why do you favour one platform over another? I don’t mean, which is better, but why do you like it so much that you’re willing to sink your hard earned cash into it.

I lie, I do play favourites. I have an irrational and rational bias towards the Sony platforms. In regards to the Playstations, it’s usually been a hardware and game bias, mostly hardware. I do love my DS, but there’s just something nice about the shiny PSP that makes me love it.  That aside I do own all 3 consoles, both handhelds and a kick ass PC. Not to mention the board games and tabletop RPGs. I flit from platform to another, but most people aren’t like me.

So here’s my question to you: Why’d you make your choice?


Golden Joysticks!

It’s that time again! It’s the time of year when the Golden Joystick Awards starts their voting. You can vote here on their website. You have until May 27th. It’s the long list voting at the moment, but best to get in there early so you can help your favourite game get into the short lists. I always find it hard to vote in the long lists because there’s always just so many games listed. It’s the only awards I ever pay attention to though because they are 100% voted for by gamers. None of this committee who doesn’t remember the games or doesn’t know anything about games.  To me that’s a big deal and a good thing.

So get to voting. Cause we need awesome games like Batman: Arkham Asylum to win awards cause they’re awesome, not because someone paid the judge.


The week (and then some) in review

Things have been hectic here; we picked up Final Fantasy XIII (gorgeous, but I have a lot of gameplay complaints that can really be summed up in Penny Arcade form), bought and beat (with an Angel of Death score) the Chaos Rising expansion for Dawn of War II, and also picked up a new monitor that is lovely and really makes gaming easier on the eyes. A 23″ Samsung LED that’s crisp, bright, and was a little over my budget but so worth it. We also had tabletop last Friday, and will have the alternate game this Saturday (Iron Kingdoms and Shadowrun, respectively; Paladin of Menoth and Wolf Shaman, for the curious), but there’s nothing really exciting to report on that just yet.

Right now work – or more appropriately — the husband’s work — is eating what couple time my husband and I find together, so I got a lot of gaming done this week. I’ve knocked off some hours of FFXIII, and I finally got my Shaman to ding 80 and then ran a ton of 80 Regular Instances (ICC 5’s and ToC) to get her some gear and prepare her for the heroic’s grind…. which I already do with a Protection Warrior, Holy Priest, Hunter, Warlock and the Death Knight I almost never play. I mentioned sixth eighty, right?

However, Twitter has brought a gem to my door; the local Big Boy Nerds, the The Geek Show, is produced by Zack Shutt. He’s put out a call for at least one people-person geek and web developers. As the former and not the latter, I don’t expect to make the grade on his new project and get a job with him, but I am curious and I figured, what the hell. So I’ve DM’d him and we’ll see what happens there. I can’t say I’m unhappy with my current job– but I’m not happy there, either (and I am often situationally unhappy there, but that’s another story for another time).

I hope to find some time to write about the two latest expansions I dealt with: Dawn of War II’s Chaos Rising and Dragon Age: Awakenings, but I’ll save that for the weekend, I think. I’m told it’s All Hands so I’ll have a lot of free time without the husband.


The MMO black hole..

I have been pretty good about keeping myself away from MMORPGs since last year. I started playing Final Fantasy Online back in 2004, and for the next (almost) 5 years I went through the supposed 9 rings of gamer hell. It starts off casual, you just play for a few hours a day. Eventually you peak at obsessive gaming, playing every day, waking up at ridiculous hours to make specific events or hunts. After the obsessive stage, comes the burn out. I burned out last year. I stopped playing the game on a regular basis for nearly a year and got to free up all those hours to play other things, to study more, go out with friends more, all the good stuff.

This was the first warning sign: I didn’t cancel my account. I’ve been paying the monthly fee for a game I haven’t been playing for months. I keep thinking, yeah I’ll cancel it at the end of this month, and it’ll be over. But then the month goes by and I don’t update the client and actually cancel the account. This month, I finally went and installed the client (and the game) to my new PC. I did it mostly out of curiosity – I built the PC in January and I wanted to see how the graphics looked (opposed to on my laptop where I’d been playing FFXI all these years). Oh man, the game looks so beautiful! I’m still going to cancel at the end of this month, but for right now, I’m feeling that pull, that gravity that MMOs seem to have to suck people right in.

So, everyone cross your fingers that I hit that cancel button in 2 weeks!