Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some MMO respite!

Being a hardcore MMO gamer is hard work! You have to put in enormous amount of your spare time to level your characters and build online friendships. So every so often I like to take a break from the online world and mellow out with some good old RTS and TBS games for a week or two. This way I can get some respite from the endless grind and also satisfy my game addiction.

This week I have been playing Sins of Solar Empire (SoSE) and Galactic Civilizations 2 (GC2). SoSE reminds me a lot of Warcraft 3, except set in space, and GC2 is what Masters of Orion 3 should have been. Both are awesomely challenging strategy games with enough content to keep any gamer amused for a month or two. SoSE is a really well built little RTS with an emphasis on game play and user experience rather than graphics. GC2 is probably the best TBS I have ever played (Hero's of Might and Magic 5 was a close 2nd).

At this point your probably wondering why I'm not on the AoC band wagon? Past experience with MMORPG releases has taught me many things:
  • Expect many bugs and exploits for the first few months
  • Often the hype is about the graphics and not the long term game play
  • Time is always required for class/archetype balancing
  • Extra features aren't often implemented until long after the game's release
  • By reading forum posts of long term player's you can make an educated decision on which class to play and tactics to use.
It's these reasons that I'm am holding off buying AoC, because if it's really as good as it says it is, then it will still have my attention in 2 months time. Mind you, all these lessons will go out the window when Guild Wars 2 is released. I'm going to be taking 2 weeks off work for that game :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

PonyStars - Genius!

Every so often in the mixed up world of video games you come across a game that makes you say "WTF?". PonyStars is just that kind of game. I first found out about this game on Massively, with their article 'PonyStars set to kick Age of Conan's overexposed barbarian ass'; giving the impression that a new MMO is being released that could rival AoC. So naturally I did a bit of research, checked out the site and signed up. It looked like a clever browser based MMO targeting the female gamer population. But how on earth was that going to topple AoC??
PonyStars is slightly buggy with a horrible UI, and bears more than a passing resemblance to 'My Little Pony' (can we say pending lawsuit???) but it's going to make a killing! Why? Because it's got adorable little ponies that live in fairy land. Past experience tells us that chicks love that warm and fuzzy kind of cr@p - Nintendo made a packet off this premise with 'Nintendogs'.

Browser based MMOs are really gaining momentum at the moment because they are cheap, fast to build (compared to your standard MMO) and they reel in the profits through direct debit and online advertising. Low system requirements and the fact that people can play them at work and/or school is the driving force behind their immense popularity.
So is PonyStars going to kick AoC's ass in profits? It's certainly possible; I just wish I had of thought of it!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Best RPG Leveling System?

In the video game industry, game companies often make 'copy cat' games that are essentially a previously built game but with a few improvements to game mechanics and graphics. In the case of RPGs the game is usually based in a different universe, but shares the same leveling system as other RPGs. As far as I can tell, there are 3 main leveling systems that have evolved over the last decade or so (kinda sad really):

XP Based:
This is the traditional RPG leveling system where you gain levels by earning XP through completing quests and/or killing bad guys. The amount of XP required to gain a level usually increases each time, forcing the player to take on harder quests and badies. Typically badies encountered earlier in the game provide less XP if revisited. With each level you usually gain a bonus to your character stats, health and mana. The majority of RPGs around today use this system.
  • The system rewards you for putting more time and effort into gaining XP. Experts can rush through levels and noobies can level at their own pace.
  • Can lead to 'grinding', if leveling requirements are excessive or unreasonable.

Time Based:
Unique to Eve online, this system levels your character's skills over a period of time. The player selects which skill to learn and then starts the count down. The higher level skills take longer than the lower level ones.
  • Great for casual gamers, as you can level your character without even being logged on.
  • No 'grinding' required.
  • Can take a seriously long time to get a lot of the higher level skills.
  • No fast track to leveling. Just have to let the clock do it's thing.

Action Based:
This is where performing an action levels a certain skill/attribute of the character. For example, successfully attacking an enemy with a sword increases your sword skills and abilities. This system was used in the popular Elder Scrolls (Morrowind) series.
  • The more you perform a particular action, the better you get at performing it.
  • Encourages players to explore a range of actions within the mechanics of the game.
  • Can lead to 'grinding' through repetitive use of the same action.

So which leveling system is the best? If an RPG was to use a combination of all three, I think it would go far. WoW uses a combination of the XP and Action based leveling systems, and it seems to work very well (more XP than Action). The downside however is that WoW suffers greatly from 'grinding' syndrome. If it were to somehow add elements of the Time based leveling system as well, it may reduce the 'grind' and appeal more to the causal gamer. Perhaps in the future, game designers will be able to combine the best of each leveling system into one awesome RPG. Or better yet, invent a new leveling system altogether.

Friday, May 16, 2008

RPG Quest Types - Not Much Variety!

These days not many people read or listen to the quest descriptions before clicking the accept button. I'm definitely one of these people. Being a hardcore MMORPGer its a lot more productive to race through the quests in order to get rewards and level your character. This often steals away from the RP experience of the game, but makes your character more powerful faster, which is a reward in itself. The question is why deliberately ruin the RP experience? Isn't the RP experience the reason your playing an RPG?

Each quest in an RPG is typically the same as the last. Its the quest scenario and setting that changes, not the quest type. As far as I can tell there are four different quest types:
  1. Search and Destroy Type: Go somewhere kill somebody. Destroy the facility at location x.
  2. Courier Type: Take object x to destination y. Go somewhere collect object x.
  3. Protect/Escort Type: Protect someone or stand your ground for n amount of time. Ensure NPC gets to destination y.
  4. Explore Type: Uncover the map. Find somebody or something. Follow the clues. Respond to hot/cold type messages.
All quests/missions in RPG games can be made up of one or more of these quest types. Often additional elements are added to increase the difficulty of the quests such as timers, multiple objectives and quest chaining, but fundamentally the quest types are the same.

So how do we solve the problem of 'deja vu' questing in RPGs? Sadly I don't believe we can. Quest types in RPGs will always be limited to the same four types. There is however hope in reducing the questing 'deja vu factor' through clever disguises. I've seen techniques like creative story telling, appealing quest UIs, cinematic cut scenes and clever NPC interaction used to make receiving a quest more entertaining and enjoyable.

If RPG quests were treated more like puzzles rather than tasks, I think players would be forced to pay more attention to the quest instructions, and gain greater satisfaction from completing them. Adding random elements to the quests would also increase re-playability and reduce the 'deja vu factor'.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Assassin Build: Scythe Sin

This is a high damage PvP build that has everything except a self heal:

Template Code: OwpiMypM9fBgxc1cp/cmtIKAAA

Critical Strikes: 16 (12+4)
Scythe Mastery: 12
Crippling Sweep (Scythe Mastery)
Wounding Strike [Elite] (Scythe Mastery)
Mystic Sweep (Scythe Mastery)
Eremite's Attack (Scythe Mastery)
Critical Eye (Critical Strikes)
Assassin's Remedy (Critical Strikes)
Way of the Master (Critical Strikes)
Resurrection Signet ( )

The Scythe Sin is not a new build, people have been running it for a very long time. It works well because it provides an enormous amount pressure to the opposing team, via direct damage and spreading conditions. You have a %80 critical strike rate with a weapon that does 41 damage on a critical hit. Factor in the other bonuses and your average damage per hit is between 90-110. Blind doesn't effect this build because of Assassin's Remedy, which removes a condition every time you use a skill. This build depends heavily on a monk or ritualist to keep you alive, as it has no defense or healing. If you find you are dying too quickly, you can swap in Critical Defenses for Critical Eye. Be sure to keep your enchantments up as Wounding Strike and Mystic Sweep are less effective without them.

I use a 20/20 Sundering +30 health scythe and radiant armour. You can also run a minor Critical Strikes rune in order to maximize your health.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Which MMORPG should I choose next?

Over the last three years I've gone from Guild Wars to Eve, to World of Craft, to Hellgate London and then back to Guild Wars. Each one consumed copious amounts of my free time trying to level up characters, find better weapons/armour, and exploring the unknown. With many new MMORPGs shinning on the horizon and Guild Wars 2 still over 9 months away, the question is which one should I choose next? I've narrowed the ball park down to three:

Stargate Worlds

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Age of Conan looks awesome and reports from the open beta have been all thumbs up, so its looking like the front runner. The only thing is that my girlfriend is a huge Stargate fan (and I mean huge), and she rarely plays video games, so Stargate Worlds could be my opportunity to turn her to the dark side. Its a dream of mine to be playing an MMORPG side by side with her, so Stargate Worlds will definitely have some weight behind it at 'money time'. As a younger nerd, I was a big Warhammer fan (still am) and an MMORPG of my second favorite fantasy universe would be awesome!! Warhammer Online has a lot of potential and if the game is well built, it will definitely make my decision harder.

All three games have different release dates, some later than others, so my decision may be made for me depending on which gets released first... although often its a good idea to hold off buying any new release MMO for a while, to read reviews and let major patches through... I can see this is going to be a hard decision, but one I'm looking forward to ;)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Guild Wars vs World of Warcraft

I've read a lot of articles and forums debate this issue, and almost everyone of them have the facts wrong or are extremely biased to one or the other. Being a long term player of both games (Guild Wars 2 years+, WoW 9 months), I've been dying to state my own opinion on which one is better. I should point out that both games are awesome in their own right and I sincerely enjoyed (still do) playing both.

Graphics and Sound

  • World of Warcraft (WoW) has very cartoony graphics, where as Guild Wars goes for a more realistic approach. Both games have spectacular artwork, but Guild Wars definitely wins out as far as looks go.

  • The sound quality (music and effects) on both games is fantastic.

Role Playing

  • WoW's persistent world makes for a more RP experience (except when bad guys re-materialise after dying, in front of your very eyes). Guild Wars uses an instanced game play experience, which means that once you leave town the world belongs to you and your party members. This can be good, as bosses will always be alive when you get them and when you kill something, it stays dead (at least until you zone).

  • WoW has races, Guild Wars only has humans. Guild Wars has more classes though (if you include all expansions).

  • WoW has factions (Horde or Alliance), Guild Wars has something similar with the 'Factions' campaign expansion (Kurzick or Luxan), but it doesn't feel the same.

  • WoW has professions (i.e Alchemy, Mining, Blacksmithing etc), which gives you something other than endless killing to devote your time to when leveling your char. Guild Wars has something similar with 'titles', but its not quiet the same.

  • Character creation in both games allows for unique looking chars, but I felt as though Guild Wars did a better job of it than WoW.

  • Guild Wars allows you to multi-class your characters, WoW does not.

  • In WoW you have a larger range of movement with your character. You can jump, fly and swim your way across a variety of environments. In Guild Wars you cannot jump or swim and you are often restricted by invisible barriers.


  • An annoying feature of Guild Wars is that in order to complete the PvE aspects of the game, you must join a party of 4 – 8 players. You can enlist NPC henchmen, but they can be annoying and useless at times. So before leaving town you must build up a party of other players. This means that you must rely entirely on 7 other players to do their part or else you all die. Good if you get good players, annoying if you don't. The majority of the game in WoW can be soloed, which removes this problem. Guild Wars kind of solved the problem with in the introduction of Heroes (player controlled henchman) with the Nightfall Campaign, but not entirely.

  • Playing on a PvP WoW server really made the PvE suck. I'd be mid way through a quest with my level 25 Horde character and then suddenly a level 70 Alliance player would pop up and gank (unfairly kill) me. Due to the level difference, there was nothing I could do to stop it. It was even worse when they camped my corpse, which meant the second I came back to life, they would kill me again. My friends all told me to switch to a PvE server, but I enjoy PvP, I just prefer it when it fair. The upside is that I guess it makes the game more RP and when you reach a high level, you can go back and kill all the other low level noobs of the opposing faction. If you find that fun...

  • Time spent running places in WoW almost accounted for 40% of my total game play. Naturally the game provides easier modes of transportation than running, but it still gets to you after a while. Guild Wars solved the problem with a 'mapping' feature. You can open your map and double click a town and you are instantly transported there, which means you save a huge amount of game play time in transportation. The question is, which one is more RP?

  • Changing your character skills and build spec in WoW costs in game money, whereas its free to do as many times as you like in Guild Wars.

  • Both games have an enormous amount of end game things to do, so I don't think either game wins here.

  • Selling and buying items in Guild Wars is a nightmare. You have to advertise in the trade channel of each town and hope that someone private messages you. WoW has an 'Auction House' which makes it a hell of a lot easier to sell your items as well as buy exactly what you are looking for.


  • One of the biggest things that turned me off WoW is that the guy who had the best weapon and armour always dominated the battleground. So essentially the game encourages you to grind your life away to get these elite items just so that you can be the best at PvP. Guild Wars has max levels for all armour and weapons, which means the game is more skill based than item based. The rarest items in Guild Wars have the same stats as other easier to obtain max items, they just look better.

  • Class blancing in WoW for PvP is terrible. Often its the case that it doesn't matter how skilled you are as a player there is always another class that has a significant advantage over you. For example, a Rogue will always have an advantage over a Mage, and a Wariror over a Rogue. I know players that will swear black and blue that this isn't true, but sadly it is. The ability to multi-class in Guild Wars removes this problem, meaning that no one particular class has an advantage over any other class.

  • All the best PvP battlegrounds in WoW cannot be accessed until you reach the higher levels with your character. In the case of Arenas, you have to reach level 70. Personally I think this absolutely sucked. Every single aspect of PvP can be accessed right from the get go with Guild Wars. This is achieved with PvP only characters. PvE characters can participate in PvP as well, they just need to be level 20 (aside from Ascalon Arena).

  • WoW provides PvP statisitics and Guild Wars doesn't. When playing WoW I loved being able to look at how many kills I had made and damage delt during the course of battleground. It also helped to identify which players were pulling their weight and which players weren't.

  • WoW has bigger battles. Some of the battlegrounds in WoW allow for 40 v 40 players to compete against one another. The max size in Guild Wars is 12 v 12 (Alliance Battles).


  • When you start a character in WoW, you must pick a server to play on. If later on you meet a friend that is on a different server, WoW charges you $20 US to change server. Guild Wars is free to change server. Which means you can always play with your friends no matter where they are in the world.

  • Guild Wars is free to play but has a slightly higher upfront cost than WoW. WoW charges around $15 US a month to play.


I think WoW has a lot better role playing elements to the game, as well as a lot more depth as far as the PvE goes, however the PvP system in WoW doesn't even compare with Guild Wars. Both games have the same repetitive questing and killing, except that it takes longer to level in WoW compared to Guild Wars. So if you enjoy PvE and can get over the incessant grinding to gain levels (I couldn't), WoW is the game for you. If you prefer PvP with some challenging PvE on the side (like me), then I recommend Guild Wars.