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Archive for June, 2010

DDO: what’s in store for Lotro

After my last post, I realized that the most fitting game to try was actually DDO. I had played DDO during its beta and then dismissed it for being too group focused for my taste. I got some interest in it again after it went F2P. However, since that was only for the US and not for Europe, I forgot about it again.

So I made that post about searching for a good game to try out/get back to and then I saw this video by accident. Apparently, the game was playing from Europe. I had mistakenly assumed that it would perform less or even be IP blocked. That teaches me to assume things.

So here are my first impressions:

  • It cannot replace Pen&Paper DnD. Computer games cannot compete with my RL friends.
  • It is pretty true to P&P though, while keeping the action of a computer game
  • You actually have to aim to hit things with both melee, ranged and spells, which makes combat more involved than for most MMO’s.
  • Just like in the P&P, you can really screw up your character build

While I could continue that list, I would like to focus on items that are relevant to Lotro going F2P.

  • I did not feel weak for being on a free account
  • Chat spam was not worse than any MMO starting zone. I actually did not see a single gold seller
  • The Turbine store is clearly present, but it is not forcing itself upon the player. Radio commercials are more intrusive.
  • Only social hubs in DDO are not instanced. This makes it easier to lock areas off as paid content. This is going to be more difficult for Lotro’s open world.

Conclusions? It is too early. However, DDO has impressed me enough to keep playing for a while. At the very least I shall have a fun game to play until Starcraft 2 beta goes live again.

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Waiting for it… f2p

June 21, 2010 1 comment

After the success of the revamp of DDO from a subscription game to a free-to-play game, I should probably have been less surprised when a similar change was announced for Lord of the Rings Online. Financially, I have nothing to complain about, I bought a lifetime subscription when the game went live and I have spent more than enough hours in-game to make that one of my best financial decisions about entertainment. I do have concerns though, about how the lower threshold to start the game may ruin the friendly community, about how long we will have to wait for new content if the team is busy working on the f2p model, about the gliding scale of micro transactions from cosmetic to slightly useful to simply buying power with real money.

What worries me most is pretty personal. I still like playing MMO’s though I would rather be playing Starcraft II at the moment, but the beta is down. However, getting into a new one is a pretty large time investment. LOTRO is fun, but it will never be my main game for long. I am thinking about getting back to Age of Conan, Warhammer, Champions Online, Global Agenda or trying something new, but there does not seem to be anything out yet that draws me in enough to make the initial investment of time and money. Or rather: why would I be paying now when the winning business model for failing (DDO) and non-failing (LOTRO) games seems to be FTP? The games I mentioned could clearly use a boost in subscriptions.  Perhaps I like a game enough (again) to continue, but perhaps that game needs a bit more time to grow on me before I enjoy it. This was certainly the case with LOTRO. I really like the setting, but it was basically WoW with a Tolkien skin when I started playing. Only later, thanks to my “playing for free”, did I start to appreciate the game for what it was.

And that leaves me wondering where the MMO pricing model will go. I am really curious what The Old Republic will do and how that will affect the market. If DDO is potentially changing the whole landscape, imagine what that game will do if it is the success it claims it shall be. I am ashamed to admit that I am hyped enough about that game to buy it anyway.

Both are Blizzard?

The first phase of Starcraft II Beta is over and I found out that I was spending more time on it than I had realised. I suddenly “gained” about one free hour per day. It also made me realise that I am really looking forward to this game. While searching for more SCII information, I found plenty of news about the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, as well. I played WoW for years, enjoyed it, got burned out a few times, returned, had fun again, burned out after a while etcetera, etcetera. I had fully expected to get back with Cataclysm when I quit halfway Wrath of the Lich King. Actually, I expected to return earlier.

However, I can barely muster any enthusiasm. MMO-Champion has a big post called “World of Warcraft Cataclysm Press Tour” on the front page and everything about it seems to be about grinding and simplification. I fully realize that MMO’s have always been about getting players to run around as long in the treadmill as possible, but Blizzard does not seem to bother to try to hide it anymore since Wrath. I am also still playing Lord of the Rings Online and while I am feeling the grind of getting a decent Legendary item, I am also sightseeing in Moria. It may not look like I imagined from reading the books, but it is still worthwhile to see how other people imagined it.

This treadmill also lets you visit Balin's tomb.

Compare that to Starcraft II. While Achievements have infected that game as well, its single player campaign is set to continue the epic story of Starcraft and Brood War without the MMO type grind. Of course, the single player experience will be shorter than an MMO, but the quality of the time investment is much higher. Spending time is necessary to get better in multi player, but this is no mindless grinding. People will have to analyze their play styles and adjust their strategies to really get better.

Blizzard once made two rich worlds, Warcraft and Starcraft (and Diablo, of course), one has degenerated into a thing of pure repetition, the other remains an intellectual challenge. Is it really the nature of MMO’s to require less thoughts of the players or is Blizzard taking the easy way out with WoW?

I think the latter.

Starcraft II: Surviving patches 14 and 15

The first phase of Starcraft II Beta ends June 17. While it would seem that Blizzard could take it easy and review the latest beta data at their leisure, they actually put out two patches this week. Patches 14 and 15 toned down Terran Mech play a bit, streamlined Zerg upgrades and reduced the strength of several popular upgrades.

While the game will no longer be playable, the client should still be able to show replays, which will enable great shows like Day9 Daily and Shoutcraft to continue casting.

Terran

At the start of Beta Terran play was dominated by Barracks units, mostly thanks to the strength of Marauders. However, Mech has slowly begone more and more powerful. When Siege Tank splash damage (all splash damage actually) was moved from the edge of the target unit to its center, splash suddenly hit many more units. Siege Tanks supported by Vikings and Marines or Hellions became a powerful play style. Perhaps a bit too powerful, since all Factory units received nerfs. The upgrades of Hellions and Thors (to air) lost their bonus damage to Light, while Siege splash damage was reduced from 60 to 50 per shot.

Vikings were hit as well with a reduction of their ground damage. People who realised that Viking ground damage was not bad at all were using large groups of them to gain both air control and do serious harassment on the ground.

The Reaper speed upgrade was reduced to 50/50. The strength of Reapers is in the very early game and there is no time to get upgrades then, so while it may seem a buff, it will rarely be used.

Protoss

Almost nothing happened to the Protoss. Archons now build in 12 instead of in 17 seconds, but they remain an expensive, mediocre unit compared to the High Templar.

Zerg

Zerg had so many upgrades to deal with and these were streamlined a bit. And perhaps the Ultralisk gained the upgrades to make it a viable end-game unit!

The Infestor and the Ultralisk no longer need a speed upgrade for their, respectively, burrowed and normal movement.  The Ultralisk also gained 50 hitpoints increasing its survivability (basically, another Sieged Tank shot is needed to bring it down). Meanwhile, the Brood Lord’s upgrade damage was reduced by 1, which is makes the Ultralisk more viable indirectly. The Roach upgrades for burrowed movement and burrowed regeneration were combined, which is fair since Roaches are no longer overpowerd at all anymore.

Energy costs were reduced for both the Corruption ability of the Corruptor and for the Infested Terran of the Overseer.

The change that I personally really hate is the increase of Overlord speed from 50/50 to 100/100. Scouting with Overlords was already pretty risky, so I felt the speed upgrade was absolutely needed to give them a chance. This also means that gaining the ability to do effective drops nows costs 300/300, which seems a bit expensive to me.

Conclusion

There were no enormous changes this patch, which is to be expected this close to launch. Balance is perhaps not yet perfect, but it is fair enough for release. I hope more effort will be put into effective matchmaking and Battlenet functionality.

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