It is time to stop playing WoW

After a MMO’s honeymoon phase is over and the grind sets in, a major reason we keep playing is our belief in that MMO being a persistent world. Grind is work. Grinding instances for gear, grinding reputations for mounts, grinding professions for gold, grinding achievements for titles is only worth it if we believe there will be new content for us to use our gear, run around in our mounts and spend that gold, and other people playing to admire our achievements. Continuing to play is pointless if you believe that the MMO is no longer persistent, that it is dying, on the wane, losing popularity and population, and funding for updates. What was the point of all that grinding if the servers could be shut down any day? If your friends are deserting the game or openly thinking of other MMOs?

When we lose hope in the future of a MMO, we can no longer think of playing it.

I have come to that point with WoW. What? – you might wonder. How could I think WoW, the most popular sub-based MMO on the market, is dying? Aren’t they releasing a new expansion this year? Yes, and I still think WoW is done for. Yes, WoW is the most popular sub-based MMO out there, but it’s population is steadily declining. Yes, there is an expansion possibly coming out this year, but one that has been heavily delayed, stripped of features and shoddily produced. Meanwhile as this expansion is being developed, WoW’s current players have had to spend the longest period in the entire lifetime of the game without any content updates at all. WoW might not be dead just yet, but it has one foot in the grave and it’s on it’s way out. The population is inexorable decline, the update cycles are getting longer and longer, the expansions getting less ambitious, the funding is drying up and the game is sliding into maintenance mode for the few incorrigible addicts that remain.

The upcoming expansion for WoW, Warlords of Draenor, is what concerns me the most. It doesn’t feel like Blizzard have their heart in it. It doesn’t feel like Blizzard are out there to design an expansion that will put WoW squarely back on top and show to everyone in the world that Blizzard is king. It feels like Blizzard no longer have a vision for WoW anymore and simply want to make money with it for other projects. Blizzard are taking away what makes WoW unique (such as flying) and putting in a mish-mash of new ideas (that probably tested well in focus groups) from recent MMOs, such as action combat with MORE mob telegraphs and simplified combat rotations (stripping away half of many class’s abilities – to be in line with games like TESO or Tera, where you can only use a few abilities, with their combat designed for console controllers), questless and public event focused leveling (a la Guild Wars 2) and housing from Wildstar. Of course all this is done in half-measures or as cheaply as possibly, like garrisons which lack much of the customization of housing in other MMOs. It’s as if Blizzard doesn’t have an idea for what they want for their game. They just want for it to appeal to as many people as possible so they can make as big a cash grab as they can.

It feels like Blizzard are saving their money with this expansion, using it for other projects and coming out with filler content to placate their playerbase. The new content doesn’t feel like it came from the most well-endowed gaming company in the business. Just take for example the new character models Blizzard are gracing players with. Firstly it uses the obsolete setup of allowing us to only choose from a number of preset facial shape options (whereas MMOs these days have been allowing us to freely customize faces with sliders, ever seen 2008’s Age of Conan, and most recently in TESO and Guild Wars 2). Secondly, they’re just not that good. The same ugly faces are reused that look worse than MMOs from 2008.

Compare the new human female face model. They’re monstrous!

2008’s Warhammer Online’s models looked better.
warhammeronline

And are far outclassed by today’s character customization:

Archeage
archeage

The Elder Scrolls Online
teso

Defiance
defiance

In fact the awful gauntness and soullessness of the new human faces remind me of character models from Star Wars Galaxies, a game that came out before WoW.

maxresdefault

I only have to compare Blizzard’s reaction to how Wargaming have steadily updated World of Tanks. Given the challenge of War Thunder Ground Forces’ visual fidelity and general improvements in graphics with the years, Wargaming came out swinging by releasing High-definition tank models surpassing War Thunder Ground Forces, a lighting and sound overhaul, and released a set of visually spectacular maps (Kharkov and Hidden Valley). Meanwhile what does Blizzard do to update their game in 2014? We get character models from 2008 and worse.

If Blizzard expects me to be impressed with Star Wars Galaxies graphics in 2014 they can go shove it where the sun don’t shine.

How to (legally) play The Elder Scrolls Online without paying a sub

Buy a copy of Skyrim. Open up the console and activate noclip mode (tcl – allows you to fly through obstacles), invisibility (tdetect) and disable friendly npc ai (tai in towns). Then load up a save and enter a dungeon you’ve already cleared, so all the chests have already been looted and half the mobs are dead (assuming you sneaked through it the first time).

Having spent today (watching someone else [let's play things safe with the NDA, after all no-one can deny that people on twitch have been streaming this game like mad NDA be damned]) play the ESO (Elder Scrolls Online) beta, this is an accurate analogy of the gameplay you can expect from this MMO.

This game is beyond disappointing. It feels like a Chinese copy of The Elder Scrolls games. Just like a Chinese knock-off Ipod, it looks fine from the outside. The graphics are impressive, the user interface has all the trappings of Skyrim down to the compass and lack of minimap, and the voice acting overly ostentatious (oh look gratuitous John Cleese and Jennifer Hale, boy am I sick of her voice. Butch Femshep is so inappropriate for a raggedy prisoner escapee). But spend a minute playing around with it and you’ll release the functionality is an engrish parody of what it’s aping.

First, let’s talk about ESO’s combat. It tries to keep Skyrim’s combat system of attack/power attack/block for what would you call auto attacks or weapon attacks in other MMOs. But it misses an important element of Skyrim’s combat: collision detection. YOU CAN RUN THROUGH MOBS. There’s no sensation that you’re actually fighting a living, breathing monster or engaging in a duel like in Skyrim, because while you’re busy showing off your fancy footwork, parrying attacks and lunging at them, you are constantly overcompensating and ghosting through their bodies. As a result combat feels floaty and lacks feedback.

ESO’s floaty combat – the result of lack of collision detection and the reactions of mobs to hits

ESO’s gorgeous graphics may actually be a disadvantage when it comes to showing up its gameplay flaws. In an uncanny valley-like effect, it makes its MMO systems feel completely out of place and game-y, breaking immersion. Unlike Skyrim where monster will aggro as you would expect in real life, when they can see you (in line of sight), mobs in TESO have very short aggro ranges. So your character happily ambles past fire elementals and skeletons at point blank ranges while they happily ignore you. The effect is jarring and breaks suspension of disbelief, and just makes you want to play a real Elder Scrolls game. Fans of first person shooters and past Elder Scrolls games will be completely put off the game by this. Likewise, whereas when Oblivion came out it was touted for its “Radiant AI” for friendly NPCs, where they would act as if living out virtual lives, in ESO towns are lifeless. Friendly NPCs simply stand around in various poses (e.g. playing a lyre). This is standard in cheap MMOs like Rift (although even WoW tries to give the illusion of vibrant cities with patrolling NPCs), but it’s a step back from what we expect in a game with hyperrealistic Skryim/Call of Duty-like graphics.

Then there’s the whole MMO aspect to it. There are other players all around you in ESO. Except no-one talks and no-one acknowledges your presence. Everyone is just like you, on a mission to complete the quest they have in front of them. And plenty of these missions are, like Skyrim, go into a dank dungeon, full of chests and monsters and reach the end. Except now these other players are running around looting the very same chests (which are NOT shared) and killing the very same monsters that make Skyrim dungeon diving fun. So ESO’s dungeon crawls or quests consist of you sprinting past a bunch of dead bodies and empty chests, making the game more of a running simulator than dungeons and dragons.

So in summary then: ESO clearly cost a lot of money to make, as evidenced by its visual fidelity, but at the same time not a lot of thought went into its design.

Now, long-time readers of my blog may know that I rag on about The Secret World and how bad it is, but I have now found a game that is monumentally worse than The Secret World. That is no small feat. And we know that The Secret World went sub-free, can be bought for a dime, and development support for it has almost ground to a halt. People will buy ESO because it’s shiny. But after that first month, who is going to stay for the gameplay? Who is going to stay around for floaty combat, empty dungeons and an empty world? My recommendation to prospective players: wait half a year, buy it on sale when ESO has gone B2P/F2P. Hey, if you had followed that advice for The Secret World and Defiance (two other recent big budget MMOs), you could have bought them for $15 and $10 respectively, no sub needed, rather than $60 up front.

So the World of Warcraft Iron Skyreaver mount is in the new Transformers film….

At 0:23 of the recent Superbowl ad spot for the Transformers: Age of Extinction live action movie, who should rear its (two heads) but a certain mount that is familiar to many WoW players….

Clearly a meta tie-in by Blizzard to boost sales of this P2W mount.

WoW: Warlords of Draenor, the Triumphant Redemption of Garrosh!

To me, WoW is the story of Garrosh. Through shared experiences and through multiple years of patches and expansions, we’ve tracked his character development from an unsure youth to an assured warchief. WoW is like one of those olden day epic stories or movies where the old king (Thrall) passes the torch to the young prince (Garrosh), who then outshines the father (like the life of Alexander the Great). As someone who grew up with WoW, Garrosh was my role model and taught me how to transition to adult responsibilities, and I hope to use his example to teach my children about life.

I was very sad then with what Blizzard did to my hero this expansion. Credit where credit’s due to the writers, Garrosh was still the same hero of the Horde. He was doing everything right – winning great military victories against the Alliance, seeking new ways to defeat the Alliance in Pandaria (the Sha, which could have been an “atom bomb” gamechanger like in WWII that made the Alliance surrender for good). What was wrong with the writing was the totally out of character reaction of the Horde. Instead of wanting victories, wanting to not live in shithole deserts, the other Horde leaders were scared of war and the Alliance fighting back. This isn’t why I rolled Horde. I rolled Horde to fight and stand up for all the times the Horde were oppressed, not listen to scaredy-cats like Vol’jin. Somehow the ordinary Horde citizens feel the same way as Vol’jin, and we know the rest of the poorly written story – Garrosh gets deposed, blah blah, a goddamn troll as warchief. I especially did not roll Horde to be ruled by a troll. Horde is Orc, always. The Horde have an identity crisis now. They’re supposed to be the “evil” side but they’re all full of goody two shoes and pussies. This is why I’m now playing Alliance. At least they know what they are (i.e. the good side).

But of course I had faith in Blizzard and now my faith has been rewarded. This isn’t the last we heard of Garrosh. We know Garrosh is going to trigger the events of the next expansion, go into the past and finally confront his father’s mistake. The Prince lets his hubris gets the better of him, gets kicked out, goes into the wilderness and learns about himself, returns as the all conquering hero. WoW is Garrosh’s story after all. So does this mean Garrosh will be returned as Horde Warchief during the events of the expansion? I simply refuse to accept a troll as warchief and I know many of my friends have also downed their tools, switched to Alliance or unsubbed because of this story development. Anecdotally, my server has seen the Horde population bottom out, most of the people still playing Horde are those that are too invested in their characters or don’t care about the story, only about phat lewt and racial bonuses (i.e. Method).

This is how I imagine Warlord of Draenor will start:

Warlords of Draenor opening cinematic:
————————————————————————–
SCENE: the dark hold of a ship. Camera zooms in, as the ship rocks violently to and fro, while from outside can be heard the howling storm that is beating down on the vessel. Out of the gloom looms GARROSH, his arms being suspended in the air by chains. Dimly, in the background can be seen the shadows of Pandaren standing guard with their polearms. GARROSH is in transit to his trial on Pandaria.

Suddenly, the sound of fighting can be heard. The whistle of arrows, the Pandaren can be seen to fall.

GARROSH’s cell door slowly creaks open. Several shadowy figures enter. GARROSH raises his head from out of the gloom into the candlelight:

“Vol’jin” he states.

SCENE: the outside of the ship. VOL’JIN in full battle regalia, flanked by his honor guard, steps out on to the ship’s upper deck, a chained GARROSH in tow.

VOL’JIN shouts imperiously to his minions:
“Prepare to fire the ship, everyone will believe Garrosh drowned trying to escape”

VOL’JIN turns to GARROSH:
“As for you, my warchief (sarcastically), I have been waiting to kill you for a long time”

VOL’JIN unsheathes his weapon and prepares to execute the kneeling chained GARROSH.

A scuffle. GARROSH reverses his position, disarms VOL’JIN, and uses his own weapon to cut off the troll’s arm.

GARROSH crouches over the prostrate, wheezing VOL’JIN, whose arm can be seen to be slowly regenerating. His guards stand still, too shocked to move.

GARROSH: “Lok’tar ogar. Know this warchief (dismissively), when you tell my Horde, that a naked and bound orc beat you and your soldiers”

GARROSH stands up and makes to move away, VOL’JIN’s guards nervously back away from him, unsure what to do.

Camera zooms in on GARROSH’s face, but behind him, amazingly, VOL’JIN appears to be rising to his feet as well. Yet something is wrong with the troll, his body seems to be writhing, but we don’t have a clear look.

VOL’JIN (voice warping): “Yes, Garrosh, you were always the better warchief. We (the council) all knew when you went to Pandaria, and found out that you had mastered the Sha. You had conquered your pride, your anger, your fear, your doubt.

But where you were immune to the Sha and thought only to turn them into a tool for the good of the Horde, we found in the Sha a way to destroy you. When Thrall made you warchief above us, he hurt our PRIDE. We were ANGRY that he had chosen you over us, the more wiser. When you declared war on the Alliance and made more gains than any war previously, we were AFRAID that the Alliance would rouse themselves and fight back.

When we arrived in Pandaria, we found in the Sha our naturall ally. We embraced their corruption and the power they have given us. We brought them back to Kalimdor, our bodies as vessels, and spread FEAR, ANGER and DOUBT to raise a rebellion against you.”

A clear picture of Vol’jin’s true form. He is Sha-warped! From his cut off arm, a mess of writhing tentacles.

GARROSH: “NO! You would corrupt the Horde as my father did! No power is worth that price!”

VOL’JIN: “It was worth any price to see you warchief no longer. Now I must repay my debt. The Sha will have a new home in the Horde”

The now empowered Vol’jin attacks Garrosh, wildly mutating (for a cool cinematic fight scene with giant Sha claws sweeping across the ship, etc.). Garrosh cannot fight back, being forced back until he is penned up on the ship’s prow.

Suddenly, another ship appears alongside. Brown-hued orcs unload and force VOL’JIN to back off.

“Come with us to freedom,” one cries.

Garrosh makes his escape. As the other ship disappears into the horizon, the camera zooms into VOL’JIN, who has reformed into his unmutated troll form (disguise). Close-up on Vol’jin grimacing ominously into the camera.

Cut to Garrosh accompanied by a company of his orc liberators, trekking across various locales in Azeroth (e.g. crossing a wintry mountain pass, etc., LOTR montage style).

GARROSH monologue:
“I was free, but all Azeroth was now after me. On my head they pinned the death of the Pandaren, not realizing their very leaders were slaves to evil. It was my father who drank the blood of a demon, and corrupted the Horde the first time. Now the Horde is being corrupted again, and I must redeem my Horde and myself, as warchief. I was freed by pure orcs, the Mag’har, like myself, though they say they are from Draenor not Outland. They say a great warlord ordered them to come for me and that he has amassed a great Iron Horde beyond the Dark Portal. It is with these untainted orcs I must go to where it all began, to Draenor, to remove the corruption from my Horde and right the mistakes of the past and present.”

As these words are intoned, we see Garrosh approaching and stepping through the Dark Portal, which for some reason is glowing red.

Cut to World of Warcraft : Warlords of Draenor logo.

Close cinematic.

————————–
This cinematic will also be recreated ingame as part of the prelaunch event. The player will be sent to escort  Garrosh on the way to his trial on board the boat seen in the cinematic. If Horde, the player will be accompanied by a faction contingent including Aggra, if Alliance, by Admiral Taylor. Vol’jin will attack, and after Garrosh escapes will demand everyone present to forgot what they saw. Aggra/Admiral Taylor will refuse, and Vol’jin will kill them. Vol’jin will leave you alive, because you are a known hero, and the people will trust you if you tell them Garrosh escaped and killed everyone.

The big reveal at the end of the expansion patch cycle (6.4): Garrosh (from the past) was the mysterious warlord who sent the orcs to free Garrosh (from the present). Garrosh defeats Vol’jin in the raid, becomes warchief and unites the Iron and Azerothian Hordes.

Serendipity in War Thunder

I lol’ed. What are the chances of such a special in War Thunder coinciding with this event?

blog1 blog2

Anyway it serves the Russians right for renaming the city of Stalingrad to Volgograd, and doing a mighty disservice to the heroic defenders and the memory of the noble defense of the settlement in World War II. As one of the countless hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the Battle of Stalingrad in many Call of Duty (as well as Battlefield, Company of Heroes and Red Orchestra) titles, I feel a personal emotional connection to the city and its history, and I consider myself a vicarious veteran of the battle. I have thus always been deeply hurt when I hear the name Volgograd being used. It’s not even as though Volgograd has a historical precedent (Stalingrad was named Tsaritsyn before the Bolsheviks took over from the Tsars).

Why you shouldn’t buy premium membership in War Thunder

This weekend in War Thunder’s 3 million players! event premium subscription purchases are being heavily discounted. Premium sub is simply not worth purchasing at any price however. The main purpose of premium membership is to increase the rate at which you gain xp (which is 200%, compared to only a 150% increase in how quickly you earn lions). This allows you to advance past air force ranks 12+ at a reasonable rate where the xp grind is really punishing (e.g. it takes about a week-two weeks of normal “I have a life” gameplay to go from rank 11-12 in one air force). Because the xp grind is so long lions (even with a free account) do not become a problem, since you’ll be accumulating multi-millions waiting to unlock the next tier of planes.

But there is very little point playing high tier games in War Thunder. I would in fact say that War Thunder is not designed for the high-performance high-payload planes found at high tiers.

At high tiers (rank 11+):

- many games are half-empty even in arcade, with 6v6 and a number of bots.

- the high bomb payload and quick reload of (now highly skilled up) high tier bombers means that most non-domination games end in 5 minutes with yers/b17s bombing out an airbase.

- the chance of frustrating one-hit and pilot kills increases since many planes now have multiple 20-30mm cannons.

- at even higher tiers you will get into jet games, where your prop planes are essentially useless

- the maps suck (endless crater/that stupid alps map reruns)

- as one of the few people to have made it to the high tiers, you are paying to test planes whose flight models aren’t finished (e.g. underperforming p-51 mustangs, tempests, ta152s, jap g5 bombers).

- Do not even get me started on the “endgame” jet gameplay. Remember the flying pony 2013 April Fools event? Flying jets is just like that – no-one has any chance to aim with people flying around at breakneck speeds and the slightest turn makes your screen go black. War Thunder is clearly not set up to handle jet gameplay.

So buying premium lets you get to the high tiers faster where you play half-empty games, where good fights can’t build up because the games end in 5 minutes as a result of base bomb out, and the high-tier plane you were so looking forward to fly (and was the reason you bought premium) is just a big disappointment – e.g. p-51 mustang. The gameplay design also shows its limits with high-performance planes. I would say War Thunder’s gameplay is best designed for the low tiers (e.g. hurricane, spitfire mk 1, beaufort, lagg games) where you can have exciting drawn-out circling dogfights in great maps like stalingrad.

Furthermore, you have to examine why premium subscription exists in the game. Would you be just as comfortable buying a crate full of 8 hour 100% XP pot consumables in a MMO like World of Tanks, Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft because “they were on sale”, or  would you protest that +100% XP was not the default leveling rate and that Gaijin was just making the game unenjoyably grindy to force people to pay? Premium is just an XP/lion accelerator that gives you no physical proof of purchase once it expires. It is not like a premium plane, or novelty hat or pet that you can buy in other MMOs that once you buy, is yours forever. Any non-premium player can get to the same level and buy the same planes as you. Meanwhile the golden eagles you “wasted” on premium is currency you can’t use to buy gift planes or plane slots. Personally, I play this game because of the gameplay. I fly to have fun – and I can do this in a hurricane, beaufighter or yak9t as much as a mosquito or yak9p. If you are playing just to reach level 20 and not because you’re enjoying the game right now, then you should consider getting treatment for a gaming or gambling addiction.

Finally, premium does not give you an advantage in game. Maybe it could let you be more reckless or willing to accept head ons, because repair costs are not as much an issue for you. But generally speaking a person who saved his money on buying plane slots and premium/gift planes will have a better chance of winning, because he can fly out more planes in an arcade battle and his gift planes let him have a more well-rounded lineup. A rank 11 British player with a cannon typhoon and mustang has a much better lineup than someone with only spitfires, and someone flying the xp-55 or premium la-5fn has much more bling factor than you squeaking “I have premium” after being shot down by one.

Personally, I am against companies making games deliberately grindy to extract premium subs on principle. Remember War Thunder is just a f2p port of the Xbox360 game Birds of Steel, where all the planes you are grinding so desperately for with your premium accounts you get for free with the box price. Personally I do like this game. I will be supporting the company by buying premium planes (e.g. the flying pancake), which have real value compared to time-limited premium membership, and I would say that for the long-term health of the game (making jet and high tier games populated) the premium XP gain rate should be default rather than exclusive.

 

 

 

Steam Summer Sale for Dummies

Today, Steam’s Summer Sale for 2013 ended. On the last day, these too hard to miss offers were put up on the distributors’ main page:

steamsummersaleThe sale gets a lot of publicity, being once a year and ostensibly offering heavy discounts on games, with gaming news sites like gamespot running dedicated videos summarizing each day’s deals, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_MYiaovw2A. Yet shouldn’t the idea of a sale be to offer games that are cheap/er?

Why is the digital version of a game on Steam 50-100% more expensive than a boxed copy I can get off the shop in my mall, when I’m paying for the privilege to download the game off Steam and missing out on collectibles such as manuals, box art and backup discs?
(Bioshock Infinite – $80.00
Call of Duty Black Ops 2 – $100)

Why are games that are heavily discounted in Steam’s once in a year limited time “you don’t want to miss this / mortgage your house” summer sale still more expensive than what’s selling at my local store (Gamestop)?

steamsummersale1steamsummersale2steamsummersale3

Oh yeah, and Amazon says hi, our games are even cheaper.

amazon

(All screenshots taken today)

You have to be a complete retard to buy anything off Steam, so please do post your Steam Summer Sale “steals” and “sweet deals” that you were so smug about snapping up here in the comments.

Steam, its obnoxious DRM, lack of mod support and tendency to corrupt and redownload installations in an infinite loop is the reason I stopped buying PC games and switched to MMOs that have their own launchers.