Rift: Favor to Trion

03082011

Rift’s launch seemed very clean and bug-free.  Everything seemed to work right off the bat and there have been only a few server restarts that I’ve noticed, and a few updates have been pushed as well with some bug fixes (fixes to issues I did not experience and so can’t really comment on).  Compared with the hours of downtime WoW’s servers have endured in the past, hours after the 8 hours of scheduled maintenance, it’s actually refreshing in consideration.

Additionally, I have learned through reading some interviews with the developers that the rifts spawn dynamically.  The more players in an area, the more of the random spawns you’ll see.  This is good, but the rifts are simply unchallenging with a lot of players.  Zergfests just aren’t fun, in my opinion.


Rift: Cave-In

03032011

In the mood for something new, I picked up Rift on Steam.

First of all, my desktop computer is really starting to show its age. I upped the RAM from 3 to 6GB to try and keep it going for a little while longer, at least until I can afford a solution in the form of a new rig.

Basically, the game runs about as well as WoW ran on the computer I had at the time. About 15 fps tops. I can’t stand to turn the graphics down any more than they already have been. Additionally, there truly is something to be said for Blizzard’s choice of color schemes. Their models may have low polygon counts and their colors, while not “RAINBOW BRITE” bright, are easy to look at. It may just be that I’ve been playing WoW for almost 6 years and so…maybe I’m just a little used to it. But, and this is a bit of a trend in many recent games actually, as video game graphics progress towards photorealistic, they seem to become largely shades of brown and gray (lookin’ at you, Gears of War). While this is not strictly true in Rift and there are some very obvious proclomations of color, there’s a lot of brown and gray everywhere.

My next minor complaint is actually in the way the user interface displays damage. The damage you deal is displayed in numbers that are quite small, and always above the head of the whatever you are fighting. Thus, if you are fighting something very large, you won’t be able to see it.  In comparison to WoW (which I will continue to do, as the two games are VERY similar, probably on purpose), it’s just lackluster. WoW’s critical strike damage, the way the numbers popped into view and shook a little bit, made combat feel intense. Rift does some nice things with animations as well, where my shaman’s weapon attacks will crackle with electricity or what-have-you, but it’s just not as intense.  When the numbers are big, they help you see your character become more powerful as time goes on…which is one of the pulls of these types of games.  I still remember the first few times I saw numbers above 1000 in WoW, and how exciting that was to see.

Moving on to some praise, I like the class system. As described here, you start by picking one of four archetypes:  Warrior, Cleric, Rogue, or Mage.  Your very first quest in the game allows you to choose a Soul, which in WoW terms would be one tree of talents.  By the time you’re level 6, you will have acquired an additional 2. 

In WoW, it would be like initially choosing “plate-wearer” for your class.  As your first quest you choose one of the talent trees held by warriors, paladins, or death knights.  If I took the warrior’s fury tree, I’d get my first few abilities based on that choice, say Bloodthirst and Battle Shout.  Then, at level 3 or 4, I get to choose another.  I’ll take the paladin’s retribution tree, and I get Crusader Strike and Blessing of Kings.  Finally at level 5 or 6 I get my final tree, and choose to pick up the death knight’s frost tree, which gives me Frost Strike and Icy Touch (or whatever).  As I level I can put my points in any of these trees as I see fit; there is a level-based restriction on how many you can havein each tree that I haven’t really bothered to figure out, but I haven’t leveled very far so I assume this is basically the case.

The four archetypes have 10 different souls each.  There is a great deal of combinations to choose from.  Obviously some will be better than others, but the freedom of experimentation is at once invigorating and overwhelming.  I checked out the soul trees at rift.zam.com before playing just to have a look see.  While putting points in it’s really easy to feel like you can do so much at once, and thus lose focus.  My first choice was to start a Cleric with the Justicar soul.  Clerics are going to likely be the mainstay healers of Rift, but there are some damage trees.  The Justicar is a melee combatant who does some healing to itself and its party by dealing melee damage.  It was also a healer and had some tanking potential from a look at the talents.  I would be playing with my girlfriend so this was appealing, I could simultaneously keep the mobs’ attention, keep us healed up, and help deal damage.

So to complement that, I tried Shaman for the next Soul.  The Shaman tree is heavy with melee damage, so it seemed a good second; more damage = more healing!  And then for the third, I was divided between Druid and Purifier.  The Druid was the only other melee-based Soul, but it also came with some pet management, which I didn’t want to deal with, so I ended up with Purifier which eventually would come with some dispel capabilities as well as improving healing a bit.

Now, my favorite part about these trees is how your abilities are granted.  There are zero abilities just for being a cleric or warrior or whatever.  Nothing is baseline.  You get your 100% of your character’s abilities from the souls you choose.  Each soul, as mentioned above, comes with a few.  As far as my experience goes, most of these abilities are very similar to one another and merely serve as a starting point.  When you get up to three souls, it is likely that trying to use all of them will not be useful, as there is an issue of redundancy.  One of the characters I started up in the warrior archetype was a paladin/champion/warlord.  This gave me access to around 10 different ways to hit my opponents in the face.  Some of them applied debuffs, some of them were just pure damage, some of them gave me buffs, some of them were reactive.  It is in this that the class system can again feel a tad overwhelming.

However, and I recommend trying it for yourself to see, the more points you put into a tree, the more abilities you get.  There are specific abilities you can go for within the trees themselves, but for instance if you put 30 points into the Justicar soul, you will get Virtue (increasing healing to party members by 5% for 30 seconds).  The extra abilities just unlock as you spend points and become available immediately, so every 30pt Justicar has the ability Virtue.

Otherwise, the game is very very similar to WoW.  Kill quests, gather quests, quest rewards, etc.  The game’s namesake, the Rifts, are random events where an opening between the world and the elemental planes open, spawning monsters.  You can help close the rift by killing the monsters, with the option to immediately join any groups without talking to anyone in order to do so.  Helping defeat the final monster spawn, no matter when you joined the fight, entitles you to some random loot.  I seem to have mostly acquired some minor crafting materials so far, but it is early in the game.

There are two factions in this game to enable PvP, the Guardians (Humans, High Elves, Dwarves) and the Defiant (Desert Humans, Jungle Elves, and …Hill Humans?).  Each race has a minor active and passive ability.  There are no class restrictions.  I guess another limitation in the game is that there is only one starting zone for each faction (the reason being, you are becoming part of the major conflict in the story after almost everyone has been killed, and so the two factions are kind of all in their respective holdouts, everything else having been “consumed”).

I’m not yet sure whether or not I’ll play after the free month.  Need a bit more playtime.

I could certainly do with fewer plate miniskirts on the female characters though.  It’s a separate rant really, but if you’re going to hop into combat, wouldn’t you want your armor to cover your midriff?  You know, where all those really important organs are?  The tops of your legs, too, maybe?  Yeah, yeah, fantasy art and all that, but sexism is sexism.


Warcraft: In Reply To Dungeons and the New DPS Race

01042011

There is a bit of a semantics problem with using the term “dps” in the context of WoW. Literally, it stands for “damage per second.” It has long been a measurement of effectiveness among the classes and specs which focus on dealing damage to the enemy (rather than healing damage taken or taking the damage the enemy deals)…the higher the amount of damage per second you can do, the better you are at the game (at least among those who place value in such things).

You can use the term dps to refer to a few things in the game. For instance, “I did 9k dps” means “I did 9 thousand damage per second.” However, if you say “a dps character/player/toon” or just “a dps,” you’re referring to a character whose role in a group is to deal damage. There’s ranged dps and melee dps and even tank or healer dps. “The dps” tends to refer to all of your damage-dealing party members as a whole. In addition, you can instruct your group to start or stop dps, which basically means to start or stop attacking. Burst dps is that which is intended to be a lot over a small period of time, and generally refers to player vs. player content due to the unexpected nature of it, usually because of critical strikes or the short-term damage-boosting abilities many classes possess. This is contrasted with sustained dps, which is generally more favored in player vs. environment content*, where your target is likely to be alive for a long time (boss monsters in WoW currently have millions of health points, and most player abilities, even when dealing critical strikes (which are double damage hits), currently at level 85 are doing ten to twenty thousand damage each)).

*This may have changed with the huge increase of player health totals. Where at level 80 you probably had 20-30k health, you probably have 90-100k at level 85. Sustained dps is likely far more valuable in player vs. player content as a result (not that it was useless before, but burst was still very handy).

ANYWAY.

In my last post, I used the phrase “dps problem.” I was talking about how our heroic groups were wiping not because of a problem with healing, but because of an issue with the dps (or tank (me, in those cases)). Where the new DPS race is a race to deplete the monster’s health before the healer runs out of mana, not only do your damage-dealing party members need to do a lot of damage, but they need to do what they can to take less damage themselves and help others in the group do the same.

This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but if your group is having trouble with a boss in a dungeon (heroic or raid), look to a few things:

1) First, Blizzard has placed A LOT of importance on ensuring that you avoid damage where possible. There are a lot of effects which cause players to take damage if stood in. The safest way to not take damage in Cataclysm is to move out of anything that changes the color of the floor on which you’re standing (with a few exceptions!). An old (by WoW’s standards, anyway) adage: “Don’t stand in the fire!”

1a) If your class has a way to take less damage in general, use it when appropriate! (Cloak of Shadows, Feint, Shamanistic Rage, Divine Protection, Dispersion, etc.)

2) Crowd control is of great importance now as well. Reducing the number of monsters you have to fight at one time will greatly help your tank and healer.

3) Many monsters cast spells which do a significant amount of damage, or heal them for large amounts. These can be stopped by many classes, and is the best way for those classes without useful crowd control to help their groups.

So in addition to doing enough damage to beat the healer’s mana bar to zero, you can do a number of things to help the healer’s mana bar not fall as quickly! Use those abilities!


Warcraft: Eighty-Five, Dungeons, and the New DPS Race

12202010

It is odd to think of many of the instanced areas in WoW as “dungeons,” anymore – many of them are very open areas. But that is what they are called.

I have levelled my tank-spec death knight to 85. I played very little on release day due to how crowded it was. I think I dinged 85 on the 11th, basically during the first big rush but obviously towards the end of it. I was expecting it to take longer, but I suppose it was only five levels.

I have since run all of the dungeons on their normal settings, and likewise on heroic, excepting Throne of the Tides and Lost City of the Tol’vir. I’ve got to say that so far I really like what Blizzard has done. I kind of wish I could have leveled a healer first again (as I did in Burning Crusade and Wrath with my paladin) so that I could experience what is perceived as the truly difficult role, at least currently.

I want to point out, though, that I am totally with Blizzard on what is going on with the healer role. If they run out of mana to cast spells and people die, it is very easy for them to blame themselves. It is my feeling, though, that it is almost never their fault. It is the tank’s fault for not using damage-reducing cooldowns, or the damage dealers’ faults for not doing their job to avoid taking damage. Maybe the group should have used a crowd control spell on a different opponent, or maybe (and I think this is the big one, currently) the damage dealers aren’t doing damage fast enough.

In the heroic runs I’ve done so far, only a couple times could I have judged a wipe as the healer’s fault, and even then it is debatable. Every heroic I’ve done (except Vortex Pinnacle) has had one boss that wiped my group at least 3 times before we finally got it. The hardest of these was probably the shadow boss in Halls of Origination. At any rate, it has felt to me like the damage dealing characters have needed to step up their game far more than the healer did.

The bosses remain dps races. However, this is no longer against an arbitrary enrage timer mechanic, where after a certain amount of time the boss just does so much damage that it is impossible for anyone to survive (basically, the boss here is saying “okay, that’s enough of that silliness,” and kills the entire group within seconds from there and you’re all powerless to stop it…leaving you wondering why the boss doesn’t do that in the first place, if it has any semblence of self-preservation). Now, it is a race against the healers’ mana. You need to make the things that are hurting you dead before the healer can no longer keep you alive.

Not to be too harsh on all the damage dealers out there, it could be the tank’s fault as well. As a tank, if you see your health dipping lower and lower and it’s not going back up, or if you know you’re about to take a huge hit or a number of them, you need to think about using a tanking cooldown. As a death knight tank, I’ve found that my cooldowns that I really wanted to save before (for the right time that never came) I’m using all over the place now. Especially my 1-min. cooldown Vampiric Blood, which increases my healing received, making the healer’s heals 35% more efficient, and Rune Tap, which I’m fond of using as a minor group heal since I have it glyphed, healing myself for 20% of my total, and everyone in the group for 5% of theirs. If I notice that everyone’s missing a bit of health, I’ll use that to take just a bit of the edge off for the healer.

This does not indemnify every healer out there from making poor decisions that run them out of mana while healing. But if the healers are doing their jobs correctly, using the right heal for the job at hand, and still run out of mana…it is the fault of your damage dealers, and maybe even tanks.

Remember, too, that this will all get better as everyone continues to gear up. It always does.


Warcraft: Four Point Oh Point One

11102010

Death Knight tanking: The long cooldown on Death and Decay makes stuff frustrating. Lost a melee dps who did not assist. Need more practice.

Paladin healing: Required some acclimation and practice. More like learning to walk again, only much easier.

Hunter leveling: No mana? No ammo? No problem. Kill Command is less Damage per Focus than Arcane Shot? As Beast Mastery? Probably needs fixing.

Reflective water surfaces are awesome. The rippling effect is nice but wanting.

Prime glyphs, as predicted, are super boring. Major glyphs are terrific. Minor glyphs remain pretty stupid.

In every case so far, I am set in my first 31 talent points. It is the remaining five that I sometimes am unsure about spending…I expected more choice given the proclamations. I’d love an additional 2- or 3-point talent on many tiers. Still want more variance between individuals playing the same spec.

I’m starting to feel like the game would be better as either PvE or PvP. I feel like the developers, forced to fit the abilities/talents/glyphs into both is hurting the game. It is honestly amazing that they’ve done as well as they have but I would be in favor of sacrificing one for the sake of the other. (In my case, PvP for PvE.)

Overall I am in favor of the changes brought on by this patch. That said, I’ve hardly been playing, and am eagerly awaiting the expansion set to come out in less than a month.


Starcraft 2: Single-Player Campaign, a Review

08022010

I finished the single-player campaign mode of Starcraft 2 yesterday. Apparently I did miss some of the missions going through and will end up trying again to figure out how that was possible. I am not often one for partaking in replay value, however.

I will remark that the cinematic feel to the game was intense and extremely well-done. The in-between-missions segments were a pleasure to view. I’m not a fan of the “country” feel they implemented as it’s just not a genre I favor, but it fit well enough. It is unfortunately sexist in my opinion, as just about all of the prominent characters are nonsensically wide-shouldered males. It almost fails the Bechdel Test but for one part where a Protoss that is probably a woman (a differentiation difficult to make save for the voices and subtle appearance differences) offers the Dr. Ariel Hanson a remark about the necessity to purge Zerg-infested humans instead of trying to cure them. It is a video game and as such an entertainment niche with a long-standing propensity to cater to male interests, but I merely wish to point it out.

All that said, it does not do much to change the basic RTS formula. You maneuver units in combat, create buildings which create those units, and gather resources to supply both. The game uses the top-down view characteristic to the genre, and maps are clouded with a fog which hides the presence of enemy units that are out of “sight range” of your own.

Retained is the spirit of rock-paper-scissors. There are three factions, each with a varied set of units, and every unit has strengths and weaknessess against many of the others. Additionally, the importance of micro-management is underlined; many units have abilities that can be activated, exponentially varying gameplay. It is a daunting experience for new players especially.

On that note, the single-player campaign offers a course for the new players to take, lowering the learning curve substantially. Throughout the campaign, players are given the opportunity to learn and use one new unit per mission, allowing them to fold each in to an overarching strategy. There are tips on the loading screens and tips offered during the missions, as well as a fairly robust help menu which offers possible unit counters for each faction. However, the campaign is primarily focused on the Terrans and there are some side-quests wherein you can play the Protoss, but there is no opportunity to play as the Zerg. There is an “expansion” being released next with further campaign gameplay called “Heart of the Swarm” which, if the name is anything to go by, should feature the Zerg at the forefront.

Moving on, the graphics are superb, and the level of detail is surprising. For a brand new game, on my 4-year old machine I was able to run with just about everything set at the highest settings (the main exception was Texture Detail, which was at one step below the highest) and it ran quite smoothly throughout. There was only one time the game seemed to out-do my computer: the final Protoss side-mission where you field a large Protoss force against an endless swarm of Zerg and “the Hybrid.” The Protoss have an aerial unit called the “Mothership”…in addition to a Vortex ability which offers some crowd control by removing opponents from combat, it cloaks all nearby friendly units such that they cannot be detected except by certain other units with the specific ability to do so. The effect is a sort of vibrant blue sheen on the units cloaked, and having a hundred or so units all glowing in that way really affected the game’s performance. Otherwise though, as I said, it ran very very well.

Very pretty graphically, there are many minor details that add to a very lovely overall picture. There are often animals moving about, and birds will often be seen taking to the air when you move your units through an area. Notably, there was a level where “the floor became lava”; lava would surge upward and make large areas of a map unsafe and you had to get your units out of the area or they would die (as, well, lava is kind of warm). On this map, set on an obviously volcanic rocky world, there were these little crab-like creatures roaming about. When the lava came in, they would skitter up to higher ground as well, moving back to the lower elevations when the molten rock receded. A very minor detail but one the developers added in nonetheless, the experience made better by it.

The sound quality, too, was excellent, even in spite of the country music in the Cantina. The mission music is still stuck in my head and particularly, the explosion sounds struck me as very well-done. The Protoss building explosions had a great deal of bass to them that felt really immersive, somehow.

Frankly, I may not do much with this game beyond the single-player campaign. I have never been strongly into competitive multiplayer. That said, I very much liked what I played.


Warcraft: Talent Trees, Part 3

07272010

After messing with the new talent trees for a bit (and with the usual caveat “it’s still beta so this could all change”), I have concluded that things have not changed much overall. Many talents have been rolled in to the class builds or removed, some new ones have been introduced. But we still don’t have enough choices in my opinion. I can safely pick up all of the talents I want and not be worried about those I am missing.

I am pretty sure Blizzard will be unable to truly follow through on building their talent trees to the point where there are “meaningful choices” between talents. Perhaps I have simply been playing the game for too long to have any issues with the choices I have and the decision is not difficult for me, but then we are back to the problem where inexperienced players will fall into the traps of choosing the poorer talents. This is not to say that I have made the correct choices per se, but I feel that these trees have talents that are, to me, obviously mandatory, especially within the primary tree for the spec.

It all starts out so beautifully…I have a choice between a 2-, 3-, or another 3-point talent on the first tier. They all sound okay! So far so good, I have to choose which ones I like best to put points into them! Filling up a 3-pointer and putting 2 into the other 3-pointer, I progress to the next tier. I figure I can fill that last point somewhere along the line. This process continues through the tree, and I can indeed go back and fill that last point because somewhere along the line there is a talent I don’t care for. In fact this happens a couple of times. In the end, I’ve put points into all of the talents I want and filled them, with enough points remaining to pick up some of the nice subspec talents in the other trees.

I feel that a number of other players will come to the same conclusions and repost their thoughts, find a great deal of agreement or at least go through a few tweaks. The result is approximately the same…the number of builds is limited. You might as well be along a set path when, at level 10, you click the button that says “Holy” or “Retribution”…where your spec is based on the spec you choose, instead of the talents therein.

So it comes down to, at least in some cases, having choice in your subspec. This is less true for hybrid classes. Choosing where to put my final 7 or so points as a mage is an interesting one, as they will all probably increase my damage in some way. But not so for my shaman…those last few points, with everything I want from Enhancement, are going into Elemental, to further increase my damage. If what Blizzard has said about personal accountability thus far for surviving through fights (and limits on the mana of healers) is true, then maybe I will toss them into Resto instead…but based on current themes, it’s not going to happen. (As an aside, Blizzard has also stated that they want hybrid classes to be more specialized and focused, so seeing an Enhancement shaman with worthwhile healing ability would seem unlikely.)

Time will tell.


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