Guildies Over Game Design (A World of Warcraft Classic Review)

Audio Version

After several minutes of wandering up and down the small stretch of coast where Murlocs appear, I see him – the final Murloc Warrior that I need for my quest. Four types of Murloc have been plaguing Westfall’s beaches and I’ve been tasked with killing seven of each, a task which has taken me about half an hour so far. Targeting the creature, I begin to cook my Fireball – a 3 second long cast – and just as I finally let loose, a Dwarf Hunter from the middle of bumfuck nowhere opens fire and steals the rights to the kill. I seethe.

WoW Classic is a specific experience. If you’re after an MMO which respects your time, which recognises the way players behave and adjusts systems to benefit your average player accordingly, WoW Classic is not the game for you. However, if you’re after an experience which feels like a grand adventure, which creates communities out of the necessity of teaming up and encourages people to explore every avenue of the world including cooking, then WoW Classic is absolutely the game for you.

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This was one layer… of one starting zone… of one realm… of one region.

 

Everyone’s origin story of how they discovered WoW is different, and I’m very lucky in that I get the best of both worlds when it comes to enjoying the game as it used to be. I levelled a Druid up to 20 in the Burning Crusade expansion, which hardly touched the original levelling experience, so I have the nostalgia of returning to a pre-Cataclysm Azeroth and re-discovering the game’s systems as they used to be. At the same time, though, I only properly got into World of Warcraft for good during the Mists of Pandaria expansion, a time long after Looking For Dungeon and other oft-maligned quality of life improvements had been added to the game, so I also get to play the version that hooked so many people and thoroughly explore the pre-Cataclysm world for the first time.

Classic can be frustrating. It was, of course, rather naive of me to try to tag that Murloc Warrior with a 3 second cast during the intensely busy launch period of the game, but having gotten used to the ability to share kill credit with non-party members of the same faction in the modern game, I’ve grown complacent. But the game is often more rewarding than it is frustrating, like that moment the second after that bastard Hunter tagged the Murloc, when I saw the three other Murlocs he had aggroed along the way chase him down and make swift work of him before he could finish the kill. In his hubris to snatch a quest objective from out under my nose he had acted recklessly, and he thoroughly deserved my /applaud before he released his spirit to begin the long corpse run.

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They let me into the city dressed like this?

Most community interactions aren’t ones of conflict, I’m happy to report. Typically in a situation like this, strangers will party up together to share quest objectives, even on quests where you have to loot items from corpses, which take longer in groups due to the way group looting works. On several occasions I’ve had party members stay back and help me finish my quest objective, despite having finished their own, simply because we got to talking and they wanted to be friendly. In fact, at the very start of my WoW Classic journey I found myself re-grouping with a priest from an earlier party to kill kobolds. The area was incredibly over-populated with players, making the quest take far longer than it otherwise would have. During that time I struck up a friendship with the priest and joined her guild, who I am now increasingly familiar with as I log on each day. And that is honestly the quintessential vanilla experience I’ve heard tales of for many years.

The game’s been out for a little over a week now, and I have about 3 days /played… and that’s with a job that I’ve not taken a week off from. And despite all that time playing, I’m only level 23. If I was playing modern WoW for that much time, I’d easily be level 110 or higher already, and I likely wouldn’t have spoken to a single person on the way there. And I feel like it should be said, I do like modern World of Warcraft and I likely will go back to it. I enjoy the narrative, the more thoroughly built world, and the quality of life updates. But while the evolution of the game was cheered on as these features were introduced to ease player frustrations over quest objective stealing, the time it took to form a group for a dungeon, that sort of thing, the community spirit of the game also began to fade, and it sort of happened without most people noticing until later. So while I’ll always be attached to the modern game to see Jaina, Thrall, Baine’s story unfold, I’m also very much attached to Classic, where the focus of the story is about how the highest level player in our guild right now is a Warrior, about one of our officers who got two blue drops in one day, or about how it took forty dead bears to inexplicably drops six bear asses.

Seriously. How many assless bears can exist in one place?

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New Allied Race confirmed.
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The Life of a Pretend Millionaire (Grand Theft Auto V: Online)

I bought GTA V on PS3 when it first launched back in 2013, and since then have kind of regarded that as a bad move, given that it was £50 and I didn’t even play it all that much around launch period. In fact, since owning it on PS3 I’ve hardly ever booted it up, save for when me and my friend want to fuck around in a private session. But he eventually upgraded to the PC version, and the game becomes somewhat significantly less fun when you’re running around a private session (or public session populated by 12-year olds with a Michael Bay fetish) on your own. But according to my Rockstar Social Club statistics, I’ve played over 50 hours of multiplayer on PS3, so I suppose that it did sort of pay off in the end.

Well anyway, I finally upgraded to the PC version last week and whilst I’ve still not had a chance to fuck around with my friend in a private session as is my usual go-to for the game, I did decide to give the actual multiplayer a try. Whilst I still prefer the relative safety of a private session to the insufferable explosive hell that is public sessions, I’ve found in GTA V the multiplayer racing game that I’ve always wanted. So long as the host isn’t a dick and the racing isn’t “GTA-style”. The recently released Cunning Stunts DLC has made up the bulk of my activity; for those of you who are unaware, it give players the option to race in the more arcade setting of loops, ramps, and mid-air racing rather than the typical street-racing that was in the game before. I’m willing to bet that this was a decision made after reviewing the popularity of similar-styled racing on hacked tracks back in GTA: San Andreas multiplayer. I certainly approve! Winning a hard-fought race of multiple players in this game is so rewarding, both mentally and in cash and RP.

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Weeeeeee!

One issue that people have with GTA Online is the microtransactions. I’ve heard it said before that they purposefully put the free new DLC at ridiculous in-game prices so players are forced to buy it via the purchasable cash cards. And sure, that’s certainly true to an extent, it’s their business model. But I’ve found that it also isn’t unobtainable through standard play. I’ve only got 5 hours played of GTA V on my Steam account, but I’ve already made over $250k just from chilling out with some Cunning Stunts matchmaking. And of course, it’ll take me a fair amount longer to reach the millions necessary for some DLC content, but it’s certainly not an unreachable goal for those who do play the game for fun and not to grind out money. And I’m not actually attempting to save up for any particularly expensive content; I’ve actually spent some of it on some car modifications and stuff, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel like such a grind to me.

Loading times and UI issues are legitimate criticisms, though, and they have been since the game’s release. There’s plenty of annoying nitpicky stuff, such as the inability to start a private online game unless you’re launching into it from the single-player campaign. When in multiplayer, I had a very hard job trying to find out how to simply play offical Cunning Stunts races with matchmaking, and there’s still no way of knowing whether the lobby you’re joining is going to be an active one with 10-16 players or one with 4-5 who then leave. And the waiting times between races border on frustration at the best of times. At the end of a race, you have to look at who won, wait for everyone to like or dislike the race, go back to the lobby, wait for the host to decide to start the game, choose your car / outfit or whatever, and wait for everyone to ready up before a final loading screen. This can take up to 5 minutes, based on personal experience, and depending on the length of the race, you’re looking at actually racing for about half the time that you’re online.

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It is surprisingly difficult to get a picture of one’s entire garage.

One thing I do love about GTA Online is the progression of ownership. When I walk into my garage, I like being able to look at my vehicles and remember where they came from. Many people just have a collection of supercars, I’m aware, but my supercar shares a garage with my Bifta (off-road buggy style thing), my suped-up mini, my Banshee (favourite car in the game), my two muscle cars (one stylish and one for casual open-world usage), that free sports car they gave everyone (an Elegy), my original stolen and insured car that I began with, and more. The other day I walked into my downtown garage and found one of the slowest cars in the game that I’d hijacked and painted pink in a free-roam session a few years ago with my friend. The memory brought an instant smile to my face.

So yeah, I’m having a good time with GTA, and I don’t regret buying it a second time. On PC it looks gorgeous. I should probably play some single-player, too, because I remember being interested in the story the first time I began it. Plus, if I remember rightly, they give you plenty of the DLC multiplayer cars for free in a garage somewhere for a test-drive. So if you need me, I’ll be zooming off the edge of Mount Chiliad.

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The Pimp Wagon, in all its glory.

Pokemon Sun and Moon Special Demo Version

Whilst I’m not exactly foaming at the mouth for the next Pokemon game as much as other people are (for I am still fully ensnared in the videogame crack den that is WoW: Legion), I decided to give the demo a go when it released today (see: 2 days ago, when this post was written). For those who are unaware, the modern Pokemon demos are typically standalone experiences that introduce the player to the setting and key game innovations for this iteration of the franchise. In this case, it document Sun’s (the main character who you’ll be able to rename in the main game) arrival to the first island in the game, and gives you some two main areas to explore: the town, and what would typically be called a route.

The first thing I noticed was the movement. In Pokemon X / Y, they allowed the player to move outside of grid-based movement for the first time in the franchise, although this was still restricted to roller-skates and bike riding. They expanded on this in Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire (ORAS), allowing grid-based movement only if you used the D-pad. In Sun and Moon, they graduate from this entirely, adding smoother running and walking animations and removing all remnants of the oppressive grid-based system.

But that’s only one minor improvement. From what I’ve gathered from the demo, one of SuMo (Sun and Moon)’s key selling points is its iteration. There are many quality-of-life improvements that are a great welcome from a game which has a tradition of following a set schematic, and the main game seems set to stray from tradition in more ways than the minor quality-of-life updates. But as far as they go, I was pleased to see they’ve added a way to check what stats have been buffed and debuffed during the battle. They’ve also added a system wherein you can see what moves are not effective, effective or super effective against an enemy if you’ve beaten them before. Part of me welcomes this change greatly, as the National Pokedex is getting too large to remember the types of every single Pokemon, though I do worry that this will devolve the game into less tactics and more mindless button-pressing.

I was never all that sold on the setting of Alola itself. I’m not a holiday island kind of a guy. But playing through the demo, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the cultural quirks which differed from the other regions. And that’s just as well, because they’re going all-out on this; the professor isn’t even a professor, because they want him to seem more laid-back. I’m a fan of what we’ve seen so far from Kukui and the, er, the rival dude who’s name escapes me. I even found myself enjoying Team Skull; there’s a big danger of them simply becoming edgelords, but they were actually somewhat amusing to me.

They give you a Greninja for the demo, and so far there’s been no indication as to whether you get to keep him or anything else from the demo to take to the main game (as was the case with the ORAS demo). At one point you get to use a Pikachu, and that was during the (frankly odd) trial where you had to go and sneak pictures of Pokemon, who would subsequently attack you. I have a feeling that that mechanic is going to be one of those features that Game Freak try to promote but ultimately ends up falling by the wayside. At the end of the trial, there’s a boss Pokemon, which is basically one of the earlier Pokemon but in a different form – which then assumes another, fiery form… it’s confusing. I’m not entirely sure I like that particular direction the game series is heading in.

Z-moves are cool, though. I’m not sure I was ever fully sold on mega-evolutions and having to mega-evolve your Pokemon in each fight to get the best out of them. Z-moves are SuMo’s mega evolution type game-changer. Whilst you only got a chance to use it once in a demo, I’m assuming that you can only use them once per battle, and that they do a hefty portion of damage. And the animation was awesome… though I can see it getting somewhat annoying once you’ve seen it a few dozen times, because it does take around 10 seconds to complete.

And then the demo ends but not really because New Demo Plus. You get to go back to the demo zones and ride a Taurus around, which is another feature coming in the main game that I absolutely love. It beats the bike by miles. Not only is it really fast – and has a charge move that goes even faster – but it also has utility, seemingly taking the place of Rock Smash as you barge past rocks and open up new areas. Speaking of which…

The area you can unlock with this charge is a kind of mini Safari-Zone. And I’m talking oldschool Safari Zone. There’s no time (well, step) limit, but they give you a certain amount of Pokeballs and chuck you into the long-grass, telling you to catch yourself some pocket monsters. However, demos being demos means there’s only three to catch – Pikipek, Yungoos, and Rockruff, so that gets stale pretty quickly.

And that about sums it up! I look forwards to playing the full game when it’s released. I should probably go and work on completing Pokemon Yellow so I can transfer those guys over…

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“Hey Slowpoke, can I leave the demo area?”

World of Warcraft: Legion (The Endgame)

So, as is typical of when you hit the level cap in a World of Warcraft expansion, the natural progression of your character falls to your gear, which is quantified by your item level. In Legion, you have to be item level 810 to start running heroic dungeons, and that was my primary target, mostly so that I could queue for a dungeon without it taking an hour. And that’s not an exaggeration. With part of the class order campaign requiring items from dungeons, I was keen to get in and grab them, but the new queue system prioritises people who are running and dungeon for the first time over people who aren’t, leading to a ridiculous inflation of queue times.

Fortunately, there’s now plenty of content to do when you’re max level, and when it comes to the newly introduced World Quests, you can choose to pursue the ones which yield particular rewards, so that sped up the process. On the topic of World Quests, I have so far completed over 50 of them, and must admit that some of them are simply repeats of levelling quests. I’ve also seen two (non-profession) quests pop up twice in one week, despite claims that this is unlikely to happen. However, this is only a minor complaint, and I’ve found that many World Quests are unique, have entertaining content and giving great rewards. Some people have complained about the rates at which certain reputations are gained via the system, but given that I’m already halfway through honored with most factions at my middling pace, and it’s only been a week or so since release, I think this is simply a remark from the impatient.

Lastly on the topic of gear, each class has a set already available to them via the order hall, and you unlock the different pieces through completing various milestones, such as completing all dungeons or reaching certain reputation levels. These item sets are recolours of the now unobtainable Mists of Pandaria Challenge Mode Dungeon sets, and some of them look very cool. Unfortunately, I main a druid, and ours looks… like bolognese.

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No, really, it does.

 

Blizzard have been very firm in stating that the Order Hall is an evolution of the Garrison system that will not repeat the failings of its predecessor. As far as I can see, you can now only earn gold, XP, artifact power and champion XP / ilvl enhancements from missions, and you’ll only ever get around 3 or 4 missions available to you at once. You also can only have 5 champions active at once, including whoever you assign to assist you out in the world, and missions take hours. Blizzard’s approach with this was to make your Order Hall mission table a side project rather than a dominating game experience, and whilst I’ve not seen any complaints so far, I do have to say that I feel they strayed a bit far to the side project side of things to the point where it doesn’t necessarily feel fulfilling, and will likely be something I stop doing altogether.

As for the Class Order questline – well, I can only judge it based off of the Druid one (no spoilers ahead), and assume that the other class ones follow the pattern. The actual quests were very unique, full of lore and a pleasure to play through. However, in between them were painstaking mission table quests, the second of two being to send champions out on a particular mission ten times with long waiting times between. This led to some frustration as I simply wanted to proceed, though it seems that Blizzard are of a mindset that at the beginning of this expansion, progression will be heavily controlled to be slow at first, and then much faster for those arriving later. Whilst this is a clever ideology for those with raiding in mind, it also leads to pacing issues such as the aforementioned, and has led to some other bemusing issues such as Nomi the cook burning most of the ingredients you give him rather than turning over recipes. Blizzard have simply stated that as the expansion goes on, he’ll become a better cook.

To stop us from being here all day, I’ll rush through the next topics. Firstly, I’ve not finished questing through Suramar, the story-driven endgame zone, but from what I’ve seen it’s fun, though a little less phenomenal than I’ve heard many exclaim. The overhauling of the PvP Honor system has actually spurred me to try it out, with the various awards for prestiging being a large motivation and the ability to have seperately balanced class gameplay for PvP being something I’ve longed desired in the past. And as somebody who doesn’t raid much above LFR difficulty, it should come as no surprise that I’ve not bothered with Mythic dungeons and therefore have nothing to say about them. Oh, and as much as I like the profession, Blizzard have made archaeology a huge pain in the ass.

There’s still plenty to see, do and rave about, and if the story is heading the way I think it’s heading, then I’ll have plenty to froth at the mouth about over on my WoW-exclusive Twitter account over the coming weeks and months. But that’s about all I have to say about Legion for now!

 

Murder Time, Fun Time! (Saints Row 3 and 4)

Default Male Voice 1 is the most charismatic and likeable mass murderer I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing in a videogame. Whereas some series, like GTA, strive to make the characters likeable during cutscenes and dialogue, this often fails to represent their actions when you play as them in the game world. The Boss of the Saints / President of the United States is a casual mass-murderer and he knows it, and yet radiates none of the painful insane vibes that other games which go for the character realism tone do. Saints Row is a videogame. It knows it, you know it, and so we can all go about our business and enjoy the characters we play as and with. And honestly, the characters in these two games are one of the main reasons I love to play them so much.

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No, no, we can’t be having that!

I’ve played through all of Saints Row 3 on PS3, and around half of Saints Row 4 there, too, but when I got my new PC I was finally able to play them on my favoured platform (for I’d already bought them on a laptop that, it turned out, couldn’t run them.) There aren’t many games nowadays that I can sit and play for hours on end, but Saints Row 3 is one of them, and it was with much enjoyment and merely a few long sessions of gaming that I completed, for the third time, the story of Saints Row 3. I also got to play the DLC for the first time ever; Gangstas in Space was very enjoyable and probably my favourite, whilst The Trouble With Clones was fun and Genkibowl VII fell surprisingly short of expectations, perhaps because it lacked the (albeit ridiculous) narrative I strive for.

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So like… where’s my front bumper gone?

I debated completion, but that one challenge to taunt 50 gang members (and thus get a gang wanted level and have to clear it 50 separate times) before completely taking over the city somewhat put me off. And besides, I’d already completed all city takeover gameplay once, on the PS3. Without further ado, then, I hopped on to Saints Row 4, where the story fully embraces the absurd direction it was taking in its prequel and introduces aliens into the mix, as well as turning your character into the President of the United States… with superpowers. A lot of people didn’t like the direction that Saints Row 4 took, particularly due to it revisiting the same open world as the previous game, but I personally enjoy the shit out of it and think that your powers open up new elements of the map and how you interact with it. It’s one of the best superhero games going, and I’ll never turn down a sci-fi comedy. As with its predecessor, I can play Saints Row 4 for hours on end, and personally prefer the city takeover gameplay in this title.

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Ah… it’s good to be the President.

I also own Gat Out of Hell, and I’ll surely be giving that a go when I’ve completed Saints Row 4. I remember seeing a developer preview of the title and while it certainly looks different, I’m sure I’ll enjoy playing it all the same, even if I will miss playing as Default Male Voice 1. Erm… I mean, as the President of the United States.

 

Jaina! Versus? Pyro! (Hearthstone and Team Fortress 2)

Having been more than a little busy lately, I’ve had less time for gaming. I’ve still made time, of course, I’m not that much of a responsible human being, but I’ve not played much more than my go-to World of Warcraft and, since they released their new graphics / engine overhaul this month, a bit of Runescape on the side. But I’m not here to talk about MMOs today.

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WOO, GAMEPLAY

I’ve started playing two games over the past few evenings. (For I still have deadlines! Mornings/afternoons are for writing.) The first of which is Hearthstone.

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft with my friend Kiritoya for years. In fact, I kinda introduced him to the game. He’d already played the free 20 levels, but he decided to join up with me when we started during Mists of Pandaria, and I had a little bit of experience playing the Burning Crusade many years before. It is only fitting, then, that he introduce me to Hearthstone in the same way that I ruined enhanced his life by encouraging him to play WoW with me. And so, just like those young Night Elf Druids making their way through Teldrassil many thousands of hours of gameplay before, I set out on my mission to learn and conquer Hearthstone.

It’s only been 2 days, though, so I’m still pretty useless.

But hey, I won 2 games to get my 5 extra Old Gods card packs! I followed a basic deck building guide for Mage and went from there. I also customised the basic Warlock deck to try and accomodate C’Thun, and so far I’ve won 1/4 games  with that, so either I’m unlucky or I should just stick to the guides like any sane newbie would. In fact, I’m not sure what prompted me to try and build an Old Gods card deck so early on. All I know is that the whispers… to conquer… to kill my friends… the flesh…

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Kiri and I had a pretty fun, drawn-out game. I turned his Deathwing, Dragonlord into a sheep. His rage sustained me. (He won though.)

Moving swiftly on, I’ve also been playing Team Fortress 2 with my friend Reecus. He’s rather good as an engineer, and I’m a pretty nifty Pyro if I do say so myself. The difference is that he actually changes his class based on what our team needs whereas I hug my Pyro close and tight where I can actually play the game without dying horrendously every 5 seconds. I’m still a team player, though! I’ve captured a fair few objectives in my time. And my corpse has defended their position. And in that, I’m not alone.

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Alas, poor Reecus. I knew him well.

One thing we noticed was that the community here was a little less hostile than that of, say, CS:GO. I only saw somebody get ridiculed for their choice of gun once instead of fifty thousand times, and because the scoreboard doesn’t show kill/death ratios then it’s a little harder for people to pick out the worst players and kick them for being ‘carried’. That being said, me, Reecus and Kiritoya (who later joined us) were actually consistently middling. I’m not sure how the score is calculated, exactly, but it sure worked out well for us. But, yes, in general, it was a better atmosphere to play in, and I didn’t see any cries of ‘bullshit!’ and subsequent rage-quitting.

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Oh. Except for that guy.

(Side note: I’ve been referring to my friends by their usernames because they’re both called Reece. It really makes life very difficult sometimes. I’m campaigning for one of them to change their names to Esmerelda or something.)

I’ve not really played a hero-based shooter before, and as somebody with a healthily vague interest in Overwatch (I have not pre-ordered it), getting into Team Fortress 2 a little bit has given me more cause to consider Blizzard’s new IP. Of course, further factors such as recommended specifications and attitude of the community will also play a big part in whether I eventually pick up the game or not, but for now, I’m happy to gleefully set people on fire over and over again in Team Fortress 2.