Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More Thoughts on the Elder Scrolls Online

Rarely does any game leave me as conflicted as ESO. I like the questing, I like the stories, I like the exploration, I like the skill system, I like the crafting. I really like hunting skyshards, especially how they are listed in the Achievements section, but each is listed with a clue, and you can use the clues to hunt them down. That was very clever, and leveraged the Achievement system beautifully.

Almost every system in system in the game is enjoyable, save one. Unfortunately that one system I dislike is the combat.

Combat is just--I don't really know how to describe it well-- "doughy". It's not crisp, it's not satisfying. Fights don't seem to flow, like they should. I often feel like I am flailing rather than in control of the fight, with wild swings in health and resources. I guess it kind of works, and it is serviceable. But I really do not look forward to combat in this game.

Very often, I'll start a new quest, enter an area with many enemies and lots of combat ahead. My first instinct on these occasions is to log out.

Now, maybe it's my class. I'm playing a Templar with a 2H weapon and heavy armor. A little fire magic and healing, along with big melee hits. Maybe another playstyle would work better. I also haven't tried group combat. Perhaps that stabilizes things.

In so many ways, ESO is the mirror image of Tera. I can't help but think that if they could have been combined in some fashion, it would have been an amazing game.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Active Mana Regen for Healing

It's not in the patch notes, but the data-miners for Warlords of Draenor have discovered a plan to give all healers a form of active mana regen. For Holy Paladins, this means Divine Plea becomes a Holy Power finisher which returns mana:

Divine Plea
3 Holy Power
Instantly regain 4.5% of maximum mana.

Now I don't know if this is final, as it wasn't in the latest patch notes. But in my opinion, active mana regen is a bad idea for healers.

First, it is an extra button. Right now, healers may have 5-6 dedicated heal buttons, and we'll have to allocate another button for mana regen. When Blizzard is trying to cut down on ability bloat, adding more buttons is not a good idea.

Second, the presence of active mana regen will invariably make fights more deadly, leading to a less fun healing environment.

Essentially, from a healing perspective, a raid fight is divided into periods of heavy damage and light damage. During heavy damage, mana consumption goes up. During light damage, mana consumption is minimal. A properly designed fight ensures that the healer uses all their mana.

As a heavily simplified example, let's say a healer has 1000 mana. During heavy damage, she spends about 10 mana/second. During light damage, she spends about 5 mana/second. So a perfect fight might require 60 seconds of heavy damage and 80 seconds of light damage.

Now add in active mana regen. Active mana regen means that during the light damage periods, the healer spends even less mana, and may even have positive mana gain. Let's say the healer moves to 0 mana/second because she's hitting her active mana button. That means that, in order to challenge the healer, the fight must now have 100 seconds of heavy damage and 40 seconds of light damage. Or alternatively, heavy damage must be more extreme, in order to make the healer spend more mana.

Both paths lead to deadlier fights, fights where mistakes are more likely to result in a death.

The history of WoW healing has been that whenever mana regen increases, throughput increases, and damage skyrockets to balance, and the healing environment becomes less forgiving, more spammy, and less fun. Adding active mana regen is just to trigger that cycle faster, and put another skill barrier between those who are the best at squeezing in regen abilities, and those who are not as good.

In my opinion, the best healing environments have resulted whenever "overheal" becomes important. When healers are focused on reducing their overheal and becoming more efficient, incoming damage is at a reasonable level and fights are simply more fun because people aren't getting destroyed in two or three global cooldowns. Whenever efficiency gets thrown out the window in favor of throughput, healing becomes less strategic and more frantic, and just less fun.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Auction Houses and Mega-Servers

MMOs are moving towards a single-server model. But this brings up an interesting wrinkle with Auction Houses or markets.

Markets with a very large number of participants are hyper-efficient. As Diablo 3 and Guild Wars 2 proved, they are so efficient that they cease to be fun.  Margins get rapidly driven towards zero. While that's great for buyers, it's not so much fun for sellers or traders. And we're all sellers at some point, if only to sell a neat Bind-On-Equip item we found while leveling.

I think what the last few years in MMOs have shown is that markets need to be somewhat inefficient to be fun. They can't be too inefficient, as in the case of too small servers, because there needs to be enough supply, and somewhat predictable prices.

It is interesting to see how the current single-server MMOs are handling this issue. The grand-daddy of this model is Eve Online. Eve has many markets. Every solar system is a separate market. These markets are separated by distance and time. This setup is pretty good. Some systems (Jita, for example) get known as trade hubs. Moving goods between trade hubs provides for arbitrage and interesting gameplay for the goblins among us. It's also a system which feels very natural and realistic.

However, this setup requires that your universe be set up in a certain way, with significant travel time between each hub, and a population spread out across the universe. It is not really a model for themepark games where people tend to follow the same "flow" as they move from zone to zone.

The Elder Scrolls Online handles things slightly differently. Each guild has its own auction house. Each guild is capped at 500 members. But a player can belong to up to 5 guilds at the same time. So most players will end up joining two or three "trade" guilds, which are dedicated to trading. This does give a decent selection, and also allows for a bit of arbitrage between guilds.

The downsides here are that it does seem a little weird to have these continent-spanning guilds which cannot talk to each other. As well, most guilds will want their 500 players to be active. I'm not sure how someone who plays very casually, maybe logging in once or twice a week, would fit into these guilds. Too many of these types of players, and your guild market becomes dead.

All in all, this is an intriguing problem. As more and more MMOs move towards the single-server model, it will be interesting to see what new solutions are brought forward.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The End of Side Quests?

There was a surprising tidbit on MMO-Champion yesterday:

  • The Jade Forest quests had a very clear story, but it also had a lot of side quests that could bog you down.
  • In Warlords of Draenor, your map will show you where to go to continue the main storyline, along with the locations of bonus objectives.
  • The bonus objectives no longer have any story text that go with them, just a list of objectives. Now when there is quest text, you will know that it is really worth reading.
I am more surprised and dismayed by this than anything else I've seen about WoD.

I know a lot of people skip quest text, but aren't there a fair number of us who don't? Back when it was still an option, I used to turn scrolling quest text back on when leveling so I could focus on the story.

I am not really thrilled with this decision. In fact, I thought a major complaint about Cataclysm was the extreme linearity of the zones. A single main storyline sounds like it will be even more linear than Cataclysm was.

I also liked side-quest stories because they would often give different perspectives on the situation. Maybe the three quest givers would send you to the same place, but each had different priorities. Now there will always be one quest and one priority.


What I find is that this lacks context, lacks those small stories that weave together. For example, in Elwynn Forest in WoW, I really enjoy the Young Lovers questline. It's nothing amazing, you take a note from Maybell Maclure to Tommy Joe Stonefield, get Grandma Stonefield to direct you to her old suitor, the alchemist William Pestle, kill some mulocs for ingredients for an invisibility potion, and give the potion to Maybell so she can elope. Nothing amazing, just a short little story. But I guess I'm a romantic at heart, so I always enjoy doing that questline. 
The thing is that, so far, the hearts in GW2 really lack that. They're just a bar on the screen to be filled with repetitive tasks. And the tasks don't really build on each other to form a story, except in the vaguest, most general sense. (There are bandits attacking the farm. You kill the bandits. The farm is saved.) It's also very UI-driven. At least normal questing has a semblance of interacting with the people in the world. 
Now, in the end, maybe normal questing is just the same. That the stories of side quests are just an illusion, a fig leaf over reality, and it's all about filling up many smaller bars instead of one bigger bar. But it turns out that I like--and maybe even need--that illusion. 
GW2 Hearts are quests for people who think that skipping through instant quest text is too much work.

Now WoW decides to follow in those footsteps. Apparently quests in WoD are quests for people who think that skipping through instant quest text is too much work.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Long Wait For Warlords of Draenor

It's pretty apparent to everyone that the current drought of content in WoW is going to be the longest since the game began.

It's rather interesting in light of how the expansion began. The first few patches came really fast. Almost too fast, in my opinion. Blizzard could have easily added another month to each of 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3. That would have spread out the content better.

But they didn't. At that point in time, Blizzard obviously believed that they would hit the deadline for the faster schedule. So I wonder what changed.

My theory is that they had to scrap a lot of already designed work and restart at some point. Maybe it wasn't up to their standards, or just wasn't working out.

Another possibility is that they wanted to make significant technical changes (perhaps the change to the new file format), and that ended up taking significantly longer than expected. Though I am not really certain that significant technical changes would have held up all the content generation.

I don't think, however, that Blizzard is delaying the expansion because they can, or because the "suits" felt it was the path to maximum revenue. Rather, I think something happened after the start of Mists, probably after 6.3, that made delaying the expansion the lesser of two evils.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Azeroth Choppers

I often find the MMO community to be rather snobbish and close-minded.

Take Blizzard's latest advertising venture, Azeroth Choppers:


It's an interesting effort to cross over into a market that may not have yet played WoW. At this point, the gaming community is probably saturated, with everyone at least having tried WoW.

Plus the existing mechano-hog/chopper in game are very popular mounts, especially since they were the first ones to allow passengers with the sidecar.

I think Blizzard should do more of this style of marketing. Some of it will work, some of it won't. But I think it shows some degree of inventiveness.

Heh, I think Blizzard should make an effort to sneak a Warcraft novel into the romance section of the bookstore. A full-out bodice-ripper. They could hire a recognized author in the romance genre. The trick would be to downplay the Warcraft part enough so that the bookstores don't automatically class the novel as fantasy. It would be interesting to see if they could pull that off.

Actually, to me, the most interesting part of Azeroth Choppers is that Blizzard is comfortable with giving a reward to only one faction. Or put another way, giving the reward to all players, but only allowing characters of one faction to use it. Both those formulations are the same thing, but they sound very different.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Holy Paladin Talents in Warlords

Let's take a look at the upcoming level 100 Holy Paladin talents in Warlords of Draenor.

The first thing to note is that Blizzard is effectively making different talents for each spec. The three Holy talents are completely different than the Retribution and Protection talents. Retribution and Protection do share two talents, but have a different third talent.

Beacon of Faith - Mark a second target as a Beacon, mimicking the effects of Beacon of Light.

Pretty straightforward, but also very easy to use and understand. Great in raids where you can simply beacon both tanks. In 5-mans, it's probably weaker, but you can always beacon yourself and not have to worry about your own health.

Note that if AoE healing becomes significantly weaker, this might prove to be quite powerful, as you are now healing three people at the same time with your single-target spells.

Beacon of Insight - Places a beacon of insight on an ally, increasing their healing received from your next direct single-target heal within 1 min by 30%. When consumed, or when the target reaches full health, it moves to the most injured ally within 40 yards. Limit 1.

One of your injured allies will always have a buff giving a boost to your heal. However, it is a little unpredictable in practice, as it will bounce around the group. But as it always bounces to the the most-injured ally, that probably is the one you should heal.

Heh, in some respects, this reminds me of that old Vanilla mod which would arrange players by health, and the healer would just heal the top bar. You could probably do a semi-decent job just by chasing the beacon around.

One open question is how Blizzard defines "most injured". Is it most injured as percent of health, as absolute amount of health remaining, or absolute amount of health lost? Each of those scenarios results in slightly different patterns in the bouncing. For example, absolute amount of health lost means the beacon will usually jump to a tank. Absolute amount of health remaining means it will probably bounce around the dps.

Saved by the Light - When you or your Beacon of Light target drop below 30% health, you instantly grant the injured target a protective shield, absorbing up to 30% of their maximum health for 10 sec. You cannot shield the same person this way twice within 1 min.

I will assume that this means that if you drop below 30%, you get a shield. If the beacon target drops below 30%, she gets a shield.

This is excellent for single tank fights, giving your tank another emergency cooldown. I don't think the personal shield will see much use in PvE, but it's always helpful to have. I can see this being the talent of choice in PvP, though.

The thing about this talent is that if things go well, it will never be used. But it might also be the factor which prevents a wipe and results in a successful kill. It's very strong against unexpected spikes.

On the other hand, the other two talents will straight up increase your throughput. That increased throughput might prevent the tank from ever getting that low in the first place.

Conclusions

I think all three talents are pretty interesting. I would probably use Beacon of Faith for raids, and one of the other two for 5-mans. But I can see it depending a lot on the fight and what your assignment is.