Monday, February 24, 2020

Dude, where's my Deft Strike?

The revamp of the tutorial last year promised 'a more heroic start' to Neverwinter, and having now played through it I'm really not seeing it. In the original tutorial the big bad undead dragon was already dead, having been killed somewhere between the end of the introductory cinematic and the start of the game, whereas now it's still a threat, in theory. At least until an NPC kills it in a cutscene, while I look on blankly.

The confrontation with Valindra plays out exactly as it did before, except with Makos (who survives) instead of Wilfred (who didn't.) I wonder if this changes a certain (much) later encounter in Dread Ring?

All in all it's not awful, but I prefer the old opening, which I feel actually set the scene rather better. There is at least less faffing about once you actually get into Protector's Enclave, so that's a plus.

No shipwreck though. What sort of D&D MMO doesn't start with a shipwreck?

For my new character I've stayed well inside my comfort zone, with a Drow Rogue. Skills have been reworked since I played last and no longer having Deft Strike early on is jarring – it's one of my favourite abilities in the game, but isn't available now until level 44(!)

Not that it'll take that long to get there. Neverwinter has always been a fast levelling game, but it feels like the pace is now even more accelerated. This could be due to most fights lasting literally seconds since my encounter powers are hitting a LOT harder than I remember. Maybe too hard hitting. The final Nasher boss in Blacklake died in exactly two hits.

True, I know what I'm doing. I've probably got more hours of experience in this class in this game than I do in any other class in this or any other MMO, but even allowing for that it's been absurdly easy to kill everything I've encountered in the first two hours of this run, and I'm already level 11.

So right now I don't need Deft Strike. It's a single target attack and I'm sweeping enemies aside with AoEs. It's an extra dodge but I hardly need to dodge. It lets me close the distance to enemies faster but I'm not taking enough incoming damage for that to be necessary. It's a scalpel of an attack but right now the combat is all about sledgehammers.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

24 Hours In... Neverwinter

"...for the moment as I close out this 24 hours I feel like I'll need something a little more instinctive, something a little more kinetic, for my next game"

So I wrote a month ago at the end of my run of Dungeons and Dragons Online, and after mulling it over I've decided that my next game will be DDO's hyperactive little brother, Neverwinter.

Unlike DDO I have a fair amount of history with Neverwinter, having played it extensively in 2018, up to and including Ravenloft. This makes it the only MMO other than City of Heroes in which I've actually experienced endgame, though that was before the level cap was raised last year from 70 to 80. This is my first time back since then.

Before then I had wondered how it compared to DDO, and if having a second, newer D&D MMO would be bad for the older game. With DDO still going strong that's clearly not the case, and having played both games I understand why. I'm not familiar with the mechanics of modern pen and paper D&D so I can't comment on how the two games compare in that respect, but I can say that Neverwinter is far more action-oriented. It's the Star Wars to DDO's Star Trek, or the New Who to DDO's Classic Who. Slicker, more polished, much faster paced... and arguably shallower.

It's damn good fun though, and much like City of Heroes it's a very easy game to just dive into and let the frenetic action take you for a ride.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Do I actually like this game?

Do I?

It's maybe a strange question to ask at the end of 24 hours of /played time (more or less – DDO doesn't actually have a /played command so I've been tracking my time spent in-game manually) but it's 24 hours over 3 months. Since I started this blog none of my other runs have taken anywhere near as long to complete, so is it possible I just don't like Dungeons & Dragons Online as much as I like those other games?

Thinking about it, the answer is a bit more complicated than that and since I'm in an introspective mood right now I'll break it down.

  • I've not consistently been in the right mood for this game over these last couple of months. There are a few games that I can more or less rely on to grab my attention and hold it, even if I'm not necessarily in the mood for them when I initially log in, and DDO isn't one of them. City of Heroes is, with its effortless movement and frenetic combat, and the difficulty sliders are always there to ensure I don't get bored with easy enemies. Lord of the Rings is another, though for very different reasons. If CoH is the first cup of coffee in the morning, followed by another two and none of them decaf, then LOTRO is the warm comfy blanket at the end of the day. I can wrap myself in Middle-Earth and just relax.
  • I was probably more burned out than I thought from close to two hundred hours of Fallen Earth. In hindsight any game that followed on directly from that was probably in for a rough ride, and perhaps I should have went with my first instinct and did SWTOR instead. Whenever I do I know that I'll be more critical of it than any other MMO in my intended rotation so I could have doubled down on that with additional unfair comparisons to a recently sunsetted favourite.

Right, so with that out the way there are a couple of things that are more specific to DDO.

  • Compared to a lot of MMOs the game lacks momentum. After finishing Korthos Island I got to Stormreach, did the first few quests you essentially trip over upon entering the Harbor and... started wandering around in circles looking for things to do. It's not that there is a lack of things to do – there isn't – and I've enthused before about the positives of not being locked into one particular storyline or location for an extended stretch of time, but the flipside of that is that it's easy to feel you're not really going anywhere.
  • The combat isn't very interesting. I've died 3 times in 24 hours – twice because I ran out of arrows during a longer dungeon, and once because I walked into a dungeon flagged as an extreme challenge without really knowing what 'extreme' meant in this context. The exploration can be fun, the puzzles can be fun, but mowing down hordes of kobolds at little risk to myself isn't fun, and I feel like I've been doing that a lot.
  • It's an older game, and in places it does show. I don't need cutting edge graphics to enjoy a game – if I did would I even be playing MMOs? – but a lot of DDO's more repetitive environments do lack eye candy and over an extended period they can start to blur together, figuratively and literally.

Ultimately none of this is an absolute deal breaker. There's a lot I enjoy about DDO, like the flexibility of the character building, and the times when the focus is on exploration and puzzle solving rather than pure combat. It's a game I will come back to, because I feel like it does have a lot to offer, but for the moment as I close out this 24 hours I feel like I'll need something a little more instinctive, something a little more kinetic, for my next game.

Either that or I'll sharpen my knives and put Star Wars The Old Republic on the chopping block.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A different kind of MMO, except when it isn't

With one day to go to the end of the year I'm 4 hours away from the end of this run of Dungeons & Dragons Online. Ideally I'd like to wrap this up tomorrow and kick off 2020 with the next game, but I'm not sure DDO lends itself, to what would be for me, a fairly long session.

The episodic structure of the game means there's a lot more natural break points to be found than in many more open world MMOs, where questlines might lead back and forth across a zone multiple times, and the focus switching from one story to another depending on which is being advanced in a particular area.

DDO is different. So far in Stormreach I've ran a lot of stand-alone adventures that run the length of a single instance and only occassionally lead directly into a further story. I imagine it's intentional that Korthos Island, as an introductory zone, is paced in a way that's more reminiscent of other MMOs, and when I first got to Stormreach I found the experience fragmented. It didn't draw me in.

It's different, but that doesn't mean it's not as good. I like it now as a change of pace, and the instances are often a lot more interesting to navigate than many open world zones – I will never tire of just how much use there is of vertical spaces in this game – and it also doesn't feel as padded, since there's almost always an immediate goal beyond Kill 10 of X.

Or in addition to the other objectives. Thinking about it DDO does have a fairly high body count at times. Less attention is drawn to it as there's other things going on and it's a different experience to slay monsters while traversing a dungeon than it is to travel to a particular place on a zone map and kill a defined number of whatever is walking about there.

I've been tracking my death count (2) but not my kill count. I do recall being asked to kill 80 kobolds during The Butcher's Path, and doing so with more than a few over. It's not the only time either that the kill counter has likely neared three figures, but seeing as most enemies die in a couple of hits the combat doesn't drag on or overshadow the exploration or other aspects of the adventure.  In DDO combat is something that happens during adventures, not the main focus.

Still, that's a hell of a lot of dead kobolds. Perhaps the adventures in DDO are padded, only I haven't noticed because everything dies so damn fast.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Choosing my own adventure

A few days ago I was wondering if I would run out of on-level adventures, having seen several quest givers in the Stormreach Marketplace with the icon that indicated that those adventures had to be unlocked via the DDO store. Having now reached level 4 I can say that (so far) I'm far from running out of quests. I haven't even exhausted the level 2 adventures, let alone the level 3s or above.

I've descended into the sewers again – unsurprisingly an adventure called The Butcher's Path was very hack 'n slash, though still with some exploration – and fought zombies in a hidden library. An adventure that sent me into a multi-level basement to kill a giant spider turned out to be as much about exploring my surroundings and avoiding traps as it was about actually killing monsters. I've also ventured out of the city a couple of times to explore the Cerulean Hills when I felt like a change of scenery. I think I saw a quest giver out there, so I'll have to go back and take a closer look at that.

I've also yet to return to the hobgoblin town where I met my first demise, and seeing as I'm now the right level (and not likely to run out of arrows again) I should do that too.

In a lot of MMOs the levelling experience is mostly a case of travelling to a new quest hub and running through the quests in and around that one area before moving on to the next. The episodic nature of DDO's adventures means that there's a lot more choice on offer – I can go back down to the sewers and smash kobolds until I've spoken to everyone who wants me to smash kobolds... but I don't have to. I can back out into the hills... or explore a crypt... or take another run at the hobgoblins...

Then there's that guy in the harbor. I think he wants me to go and fight pirates. That sounds interesting too.

Being able to pick and choose like this, according to what I'm in the mood for at any particular time, is turning out to be one of the strengths of DDO. I don't feel like I'm locked into fighting one particular enemy type, in one particular environment, for an indeterminately long time before I'm allowed to move on, and it means my question is no longer will there be enough available adventures for me to level with, but rather which, of all that is available, will I choose to do next?

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Death by degrees

I've died once so far in DDO, around 10 hours into the game. In hindsight this was an avoidable death, and was in part due to my not entirely thinking through the way certain mechanics in this game differ from other MMOs I have played.

The big difference is in how a character's hit points is managed. There's no health regeneration in DDO, so once you start taking damage the only way to recoup it is by healing potions, spells (which I don't have access to) or resting at shrines found within the dungeons.

Shrines restore some health, not all, and each is on a 15 minute timer, so unless you have a great deal of time (and patience!) there's only so much you can gain from each shrine, though depending on the length and layout of the dungeon it's ocassionaly feasible to double back and re-visit a shrine.

I still have a couple of dozen starter potions of cure light wounds, seeing as I used none at all while on Korthos Island, but again they only restore a small amount of health, and that's where I made the first mistake that led to my demise. I drank a few potions, enough to offset the amount of health I'd usually lose in a normal fight, but not enough to bring me back up to anywhere near full health. So when I got into a fight with a greater than expected number of level 4 hobgoblins (I'm still level 3) I was only going into the fight at half health.

My second mistake echoes one of my most common causes of death back in Fallen Earth – I ran out of ammo for my ranged weapons. A stack of 100 arrows sounds like a lot, but I've been using bows a lot during this run – mostly because I picked up an excellent bow early on with added poison damage and another enhancement with a chance to give me additional temp hit points on each hit. It's too good not to use, and in this case I burned through my ammo stacks quicker than expected, entering the second dungeon with only 8 arrows left, and not finding any more after that. I'd have cheerfully exchanged any of the loot I found in the crates and barrels down there for one more stack of arrows.

That second dungeon followed on directly from the end of the previous one, with no down time in between. It was also a level 4 dungeon, unlike the level 3 I'd just completed. I didn't want to return to the surface and have to do the level 3 again later to get back to where I was, and to be fair I did fairly well, for a while, until attrition took its toll and, as I said, I mismanaged my health potions.

All of which is to say that while the individual combats in DDO aren't as showy (or to be fair as interesting) as say City of Heroes, they have a cumulative impact that is rare in other MMOs.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

What's behind that door?

In City of Heroes most missions involved talking to a contact in the open world and then going through a door into the mission instance. This is also true of DDO, but that's really where the similarity ends. There's a lot more going on behind these doors than there often is in Paragon City.

After a few more hours in Stormreach (and I paused for a second after writing that... it's really only a matter of time until I write Stormwind by accident) I've seen environments other than warehouses. Sewers are admittedly probably the second most common urban MMORPG mission setting other than warehouses, but I've also ventured into the steam tunnels, caverns filled with giant mushrooms and an entire underground town full of hobgoblins and ogres.

There are still warehouses, of course, all stacked with so many huge crates that I expect the Ark of the Covenant is in there somewhere, unless some passing adventurer has already stolen it and sold it to a vendor.

I'm also finding a lot of variety in what I'm doing in these environments. There's been a few straight hack 'n slash 'em ups, though still offering plenty of opportunity for me to use my stealth skills, but I've also done adventures that focused on traps more than enemies, a stealth mission that I'd fail if I killed too many enemies, and a timed challenge with no enemies at all.

Not to mention a long adventure that ends at the start of another long adventure.

With almost every adventure being new to me I'm really enjoying the unpredictability. Yes, before entering an adventure it does show the level and the estimated duration (short, medium or long) but there's no way of knowing exactly what's coming until you're inside, and that's working well to keep me focused on what is, ultimately, a very episodic MMO. I'm now 12 hours in, and I'll easily get through the next 12 hours if I continue to wonder what's behind the next door.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Making it in the big city

If the human cities of World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 were characters in a show on The CW then their ship name would be #Stormreach.

The naming conventions of fantasy cities notwithstanding... and this makes me feel better about all the times I referred to Protector's Enclave in Neverwinter as Protector's Reach when I was duoing that game with a friend last year... it's actually another MMO city that Stormreach reminds me of most. Since arriving I've spent most of my time fighting in warehouses, and seeing as I'm also wearing a cape I can only assume I've slipped through a crack in the MMOverse which has sent me to Paragon City.

There are a handful of level 2 or level 3 adventures in and around Stormreach that I have done before, but not many, so I'll be breaking new ground very soon, and I'm curious to see how exactly progression in DDO works.

Will I run out of new on-level content? Just how much of the content is locked in the store?

I'm aware that DDO has mechanics for rerunning already completed adventures – possibly at higher difficulty than the default – but I prefer to avoid repeat content, at least on the same character. My other preference, for encounters that might actually kill me, mean I'm torn between running the available level 2 adventures while they will still give me some xp, or running level 3 and above for the added challenge.

And will I ever work out how the crafting system works?

Crafting in DDO feels like something that will be useful eventually, but not any time soon. For now I'm only looking to gather essences from unused magic items. The main thing I've taken away from crafting so far is that the music that plays in the crafting hall sounds like it belongs in a Clockwork Orange.

Strangely, it fits. D&D isn't a straight fantasy setting in the way that say Middle-Earth is, and I enjoy the crafting hall music as a change of tone in a soundtrack that otherwise, not coincidentally, sounds very reminiscent of LOTRO.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Warming up

After just over 4 hours it's time to say farewell to Korthos Island. The sun is shining and Stormreach awaits.

My favourite of the Korthos dungeons is probably the first one encountered upon leaving the village itself. There is combat, but not a great deal of it, with the emphasis being on exploration, trap avoidance and puzzle solving. The exploration, in this and other dungeons, is enhanced by DDO's use of vertical environments. Multi-layered rooms are common, and while there is ultimately one true path through each dungeon it's not a straight line to get there, and there's more to find off that path.

Running as a rogue I'm honestly wondering how anyone can solo in this game without the ability to pick locks and deactivate traps. It's unusual in my experience for an MMO to really make non-combat skills like this useful on a regular basis, and it's one of the things I like most in DDO. It really adds to the feeling of this being Dungeons & Dragons, rather than a standard hack 'n slash with the name.

I also like that I can switch from a ranged weapon to melee weapon(s) in combat. I've been using my bow a lot.
That said, I've ran all of Korthos once before, and I don't remember the combat being this easy. I took virtually no damage in the Cannith Manufactory or Misery Peak – even coming back from an impromptu /afk to find two ice spiders flailing ineffectually at my character. Since Korthos is essentially an extended tutorial zone I assume things will get tougher once I'm in Stormreach. I've yet to use a single healing potion.

Monday, December 16, 2019

What did she do? Everything.

I've been reading Halo Jones recently and now feel the need to multi-class into Artificer so that I too can have a robot dog.

(The Ballad of Halo Jones was a mid-80s series in 2000AD, by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson. It's been on my to-read list since forever and having finally gotten around to it I can say it's increadibly ahead of its time and lives up to its reputation as one of the best things Moore has ever done. Also there's a robot dog.)

Going for a multi-class build in DDO is something I'm sure to do. I've always enjoyed hybrid builds and since I'm never a min-maxer the dire warnings that it can break a character build don't dissuade me. I want a fun build that's interesting to play far more than I want to slavishly follow someone else's guide to optimising my character for content I might well never do.

So I'll almost certainly do this, just not yet. Artificer is a premium class, and my initial DDO budget went on the Drow race. Next time perhaps.

Limiting my spending in F2P MMOs is something I do mostly because I'm interested in seeing how much bang for my buck I get in each game. Doing it like this really shines a light on how and when and where a particular game takes aim at a player's wallet... like bag space in LOTRO.

So for any 24 hours of a game I'll spend about $15 – the classic monthly subscription fee – and see if that sees me through or comes up short.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

You find yourself on the shore...

The first word that comes to mind when I delve back into DDO is charming. The dungeon master style narration that accompanies key moments in adventures is a nod to the pen and paper game that's simultaneously silly and endearing. It's an unusual design choice that I can't imagine would have been made if the game was a new release in 2019, and it's actually very good at evoking that authentic D&D feeling. It's also an effective way to add detail to scenes which might otherwise require cutscenes or other expensive cinematic flourishes.

Does Neverwinter still open with a shipwreck? I haven't been back to the game since the tutorial sequence was revamped so I can't say for sure. That both D&D MMOs opened with shipwrecks, caused by dragons, always made me smile. The games are, otherwise, drastically different.

Not that shipwrecks are unique to D&D, since Age of Conan, Path of Exile and New World (and I'm likely forgetting a few others) all ensure that while you're getting your metaphorical feet wet in the game your character is doing the same in the world, albeit more literally.

The game offers the option of skipping Korthos Island altogether, but I don't. The actual tutorial section goes by quite quickly and is followed by a longer sequence of adventures that gradually introduce other concepts – not just the standard key hunts, but features that are familiar from pen and paper or singleplayer rpgs but less common in MMOs – like traps and puzzles.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

24 Hours In... Dungeons & Dragons Online

After so long in Fallen Earth it's taken me a few days to decide which game is up next, but I've finally decided on Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Unlike FE I have relatively little history with DDO, having never ventured much beyond Korthos Island. My history with D&D on the other hand goes all the way back to the 80s, though not into the '90s. I know very little about pen and paper (A)D&D beyond 1st edition, and not much more of the newer settings, and by 'newer' I mean pretty much any that came after Greyhawk, so uh... all of them I guess?

My history with the game does at least make my class/race choice the easiest I have ever had in an MMO. In my D&D/AD&D days I always leaned to stealthy classes, whether they were thieves or assassins or as they are now rogues.

As for race, there's only one possible choice, seeing as Drow were my favourite race as far back as when the only way to play one was by talking the DM into allowing them under unofficial rules.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

After the end

45 levels. 129 deaths. 192 /played hours over 46 days. It's been quite a run, and all the more memorable for being entirely unplanned. I didn't know when I started that this would be the final days of Fallen Earth.

The final days of this version of the game.  Little Orbit have said they intend to relaunch it one day, but maybe I'll write about that another time.

I was only level 8 when it was announced that the game would be going offline. I often – too often – reroll in MMOs, and doing so came easily in Fallen Earth because the game is front loaded with some of its best content.

Sector One, Plateau, is the best Wild West MMO ever made, with the player often cast in the role of the drifter who rides into a small town beset by dangers and solves those problems with their guns before riding off into the sunset. Dusters and cowboy hats are commonplace, revolvers and manual action rifles are the weapons of choice, and just about everyone rides a horse.

You explore mines and underground labs. You fight gangs of bandits and swarms of mutated creatures. It's a western and it's Westworld.  Plateau is one of my all-time favourite MMO zones.

After the announcement It took me a couple of days to think about what I wanted to do, but eventually I decided to keep playing, and this became perhaps the closest I'll ever come to a speed run of any MMO. It's not a style of play that comes naturally to me, nor is it a style of play for which Fallen Earth is particularly suited.

It's a very deliberately paced game. Things take time - whether it's travelling from one town to another of crafting a new piece of gear. Running out of bullets at exactly the wrong time killed me several times in S1, since I was using up ammo far quicker than I was able to make it.

In a normal run this rarely happened. I'd often step away from levelling in Fallen Earth, and just go and explore some distant location, or make a supply run to load up on crafting materials at a favourite location. If I accrued xp while doing so that was just a bonus, and while I was doing whatever I was doing my crafting queues would be running in the background, filling up with new gear and ammunition for when I did get back to the business of actively levelling.

That kind of taking time off from the game while in the game is something I've rarely experienced in any other MMO.

I also wasn't sure that I would actually keep going until the end. Fallen Earth is often a very funny game, but any MMO in its final days can be a gloomy experience, and that hit me quite hard as I entered Sector Two. I made a few changes to my playstyle around that time, respec'ing out of melee and making some use of fast travel.

Fallen Earth has always been fairly balanced in its implementation of QoL features. When the game launched there was no fast travel at all, and when it did come it was limited, and relatively expensive to use, so the sense of scale of the world was not diminished.

Similarly, respecs were introduced post-launch. The partial-respecs are a system other games could adopt, since it avoids the drudge work of redoing an entire build when all you really wanted was to shift a few points around. It's also a very efficient money sink, and respec'ing out of melee, and later out of pistols, kept me low on chips to the very end.

Not impossibly low though. Quite aside from income from mission rewards and vendor trash I could easily have made up any deficiency by selling a stack or two of the crafting materials that fllled my vaults by halfway through S1. Of course to do so meant working out what I wouldn't need for crafting, and that was tricky.

If City of Heroes is the ultimate MMO for altoholics then Fallen Earth is the ultimate for inventory hoarders. Almost every piece of loot and junk you pick up in the game includes these five words in the tooltip:

This is a tradeskill component

So hold onto it. Store it. Stack up 100 of it. It might come in useful later. It probably will. The crafting in Fallen Earth is deep and involving, and even travelling light as I was – having passed on levelling construction and mutagenics from the start, [melee] weaponry later and cooking later still – I had a lot of accrued materials to manage. I never did find a use for any of that ragged silk...

Mistakes were made. I didn't realise until very late on just how much xp I could make solely from crafting. Even so I'd guess about 1.5 of my final 5 levels came from crafting xp. It's a viable way to level up.

In the end did I achieve what I set out to do? Yes and no. I did make it to the very end of Sector 3 and I did take a look – however briefly – at Deadfall, Terminal Woods and Alpha County. Epsilon, on the other hand, echoes my experience of racing to Monkeytown only to lose it at the last minute due to a change in the schedule.

It was never about the levelling though – not really. In this game, more than in any other MMO, levelling was rarely the objective, it was just something that happened while I was enjoying the game, and I'm glad I went back to that playstyle before the end. I made it to 45, not 55, but in doing so I was reminded of all the reasons why this game remains one of the best MMOs I've ever played, and if it does return one day I'll be there, ready to continue exploring the world of Fallen Earth.