Friday, December 30, 2011

Escapist Article on The Old Republic ... the first honest review?

Ok I just wanted to link an article and talk about The Old Republic as that has been the primary gaming activity I've been engaged in over the holidays, however, I have hope ... tonight we are playing some Apocalypse World and we have forays into historical mini gaming via old west, Zulus, and even Romans planned for late January and early February.

Anyway I've been playing alot of ToR ... team leveling with a friend and solo playing several other characters on the side. All in all its been fun, but if I wasn't home watching an infant alot I don't know if I'd be too happy spending all of this time glued to the PC. It has been every bit as fun as WoW ever was ... for what that is worth.

So the Escapist had a great article on it and really it struck a chord with me because this has been pretty much my experience with the game. If you are a video gamer or not this is sort of a geek cultural phenomena so perhaps just out of morbid curiosity one might want to take a look.
Anyway decent article and maybe the first honest media I've seen on the game so far, its pretty much just paid advert style reviews out there so far.

I generally agree with it ... I've had a hell of a lot of fun team leveling characters with Kyle ... by the way the game seems to be designed to team level. If you don't you miss out on alot of social points and it just gets pretty rough to solo, I know that is intentional to try to force players to be "social" with one an other. But its just that ... forced ... so to me its not meaningful.

I don't see myself playing this game for years on end like I did WoW ... I'm sure I have a few more months in me but beyond that I don't know ... I'm already feeling MMO fatigue again. The game is just too WoW like for my taste honestly. There are some bits here and there that are damn awesome but overall it is just a re-skinned, slightly updated, WoW. Anyway here is the article from yesterday from the escapist on it:

Escapist Article

I think this article hits on a few key points and they are to me. Awesome story plus an MMO might not be the match made in heaven that everyone thought it would be. I find myself more frustrated with standard MMO-ness because that crap is getting in the way of my story. Like you can easily race along on your cool class story stuff and then .. you get ahead of yourself and you can't continue because your too low level to keep going on it. So go kill 30 of these and 40 of those. The mobs are standing around walking in circles just like they were in WoW and you go out and mow them down ... yawn ... again and again. Ok come back now I can do more story ... woot!! Two segements of the story later ... back in the same spot. So the MMO-KoToR III blend is sort of leaving a bad taste in my mouth at times. At times its awesome. For me I think it makes me lose patience with the MMO format more quickly than I would in a WoW like game.

"Players often have the same companion or pet as other players in MMOs, but in The Old Republic these companions can be characters who participate in cut scenes and therefore have more heft to them than the typical henchman or meat shield does. Seeing ten people run by with a clone of "my" Imperial Agent's companion Kaliyo Djannis immediately breaks the illusion that I actually have a companion at all. Again, multiple players having the same companion in an MMO is a convention that The Old Republic's developers would have been hard-pressed to eliminate, but this time it seems strange."

That part right there can be applied to much in this game and it really hits at the core of this schizophrenic mash up of a game. Again it is not a bad MMO, not at all, and one could actually make a strong arguement that it is the BEST MMO of all time. I myself have touted the MMO model, I do like being able to again and again come back to a game and get many hours of play out of it and have a social atmosphere, etc. but I'm starting to see the big cracks in the dam on this generation of MMOs. I want the next generation and this isn't it. This is a logical, slight step past where all other MMOs have gone so far (well with the exception of Eve but ... wtf ... there is only room globally for one of those ... lol). I am not doom and gloom about it and I've enjoyed my time so far, and likely will enjoy leveling a character to 50. But this isn't the MMO-topia that I had hoped for ... but to be honest ... come on it was Bioware-EA ... that is like McDonalds and Wal-Mart teaming up, you know your going to get a commercially successful product but forget about astounding innovation. This was a licensed product made for the masses and along those lines is perhaps as good as it could have been reasonably expected to be.

So I don't disagree with this passage from the article:

"I mean none of these observations as criticisms of The Old Republic, which is reportedly the most expensive development project in the history of publisher Electronic Arts. It would be foolish to suggest that Bioware should have attempted or even had the financial resources to simultaneously challenge the status quo in MMO design on all fronts, and as I've tried to argue here the changes they did make stand to have wide-reaching repercussions we are just beginning to figure out."

In essence this game is what it should have been and what one should expect from a big, corporate product more McStarWars ...

Incidentally the image is from a Star Wars Themed Wedding Cake from ... funny stuff huh :D

« Last Edit: Today at 01:37:07 PM by The Lord of Excess »

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My early impressions of The Old Republic

My early impressions of The Old Republic:

Yes indeed it is much like a fast food style experience, bright and shiny and all the while ones mouth is telling them "hey this tastes pretty good" but somehow one always knows better. With fast food one knows that even if they haven't been reading about the horrors of the industry for years and about how terribly unhealthy it all is and how filled with chemical junk it all is, they still sort of intuitively know that it isn't the best thing they could probably be consuming. That is sort of the whole experience with most MMOs in a nutshell. This game is like a nice sack o' Burger King or McDonalds ... some might be all to willing and excited to nom nom nom at the trough, others might be looking on with disdain. I think I"m somewhere in the middle.

For full disclosure on my video game feeding habits I have to admit that years past I've been hardcore and half-assed with my MMOing, admittedly mostly half-assed. Life, kids, school, job ... all at various times were far more important than some life draining game of an MMO. But I cite this experience, many hundreds ... if not honestly ... thousands of hours spent idling away on an MMO. From Ultima Online to World of Warcraft to Warhammer Online ... even a brief stint on Star Wars Galaxies. I don't see that time as wasted as I'd have just been watching TV for most of it honestly and a good portion of that time was spent during late night baby tending, etc. and with five kids ... that is a healthy amount of time let me tell you!

So this experience gives me I think at least "seasoned consumer" status when it comes to MMOs and just so far 9 or so days in on The Old Republic ... I'm already hitting the wall. The game is mostly good, but its very, very WoW like. If you liked WoW then this might be a selling point. Its like WoW 2.0 Star Wars edition. But if you didn't like WoW then this probably isn't a bonus. I was mixed on it, I had some wonderful times with WoW and alot of sort of strung out heroin addict times where I would ask myself why I was even doing this to myself. I learned from that in terms of MMOs and just quit when I hit that point with any game. Games are not worth playing if they aren't entertaining, fun, rewarding somehow. Here is where I will segue back to Star Wars The Old Republic.

In my eyes what I saw as the main selling point of this game ... STORY ... much in the same fashion that say Knights of the Old Republic delivered, this game delivers. However in this format, the MMO format, a great deal of time passes between the cool story elements in the game. During this time your doing all manner of typical housekeeping sorts of things, crafting, walking in endlessly large mall like areas (early game, later on you get yourself essentially a spiffy golf cart of a speeder ... which makes things a little better but not much). So at least to me anyway the story sort of loses something because of this. An hour of real time or days even, might pass between climactic story moments, so much so that you might have even forgotten what the heck the given quest/story element was all about. At many points I find myself just hitting the good or bad response and space barring through all the talking, just to hurry up to get back to the grind, that next level, piece of gear, etc. awaits. That is the focus of an MMO not the story. At least for me that is what it inevitably breaks down to. What story there is they did a great job on.

To be fair I like many things about this game and I'll quickly go through them here. The companion system is great, in this game everyone is a "pet class" you get a buddy to trudge around with you keeping you from getting over your head even when your playing solo. The companions will do crafting for you, sell your vender items off and generally the companions you get are complimentary to your class. I love how crafting works, one just sends companions to do most of it all and its running in the background while one is playing the game, for the most part anyway. For me not having to stop constantly to just do the crafting as one did in other games. The crafting seems genuinely useful and it is possible if one keeps the crafting leveled up as they go to actually make usable items WHILE your leveling, as opposed to say WoW where it always seemed like crafting was neigh on useless except for that 3 or 4 items at end game. Another nice thing are the four player instances and being able to que up anywhere for PVP, etc. etc. but those things are just game mechanics and most of them have been done long ago in other games.

There is little innovation or newness here this is not a next generation game, this is the culmination of current generation MMOs linked to the Star Wars franchise. Many people are all frothy about that and already declaring this the best video game .. that is VIDEO GAME not just MMO .. of all time. I wouldn't even call this the best MMO of all time personally, let alone the best of any video game .. EVER. But such nonsense is likely to be expected with fanboys uniting and loads of promotional money being shelled out. I think everyone from penny arcade to zero punctuation has received fat "promotional" fees to pimp this game. There are almost no honest reviews of it that I can find, etc. Honestly I haven't played enough to give this thing a comprehensive review of any kind.

Thus far its good, but its average good. Its just another take on the WoW model. Expect to spend huge amounts of time leveling, I mean its not insanely grind heavy (as is evidenced by the large number of level 50 players in the game already) but for the average player who has something of a life, its going to take a good month or two of pretty heavy play to ding 50.

Right now much of the game is clearly incomplete, and by that I don't mean the zones or the quest lines or anything, but there are only 3 battle grounds, there are no brackets with PVP at all. So your facing off at lvl 10 against level 50s. They do balanced hitpoints but your talent trees and shear ability levels can't be balanced. So unless you are higher level and have a good handle on your class and what it can do in PVP expect to get automatically torn in half in BGs. The space battles are a ship on rails, old school arcade kinda feel. I like them personally, but they don't present long term replayability, so clearly they are going to have to do alot of work on the space stuff. I'm assuming that long term they'll offer a "fighter based" PVP option of some kind where you fly around and play in key battles or something along those lines, something with a little more complexity to it.

The game is very, very young and the first major patch hasn't even been released so I don't want to be unfair to it, its not a bad game at all and I don't feel like I've wasted my time or money on it ... but if you haven't already taken the plunge and are on the fence about it, unless you have some compelling reason to jump in now ... I'd wait a few months the game is undoubtedly only going to be tightened/cleaned up by then. My honest just off the cuff rating of the game is perhaps a 7.5 out of 10 with a ton of room for improvement which given the nature of MMOs is likely to come over the next year or two. I'm sure this thing is designed for a five year life cycle. But even there this is perhaps my biggest criticism, this game is World of Warcraft-esq and its supposed to last another five years?? I don't think so. At present rate I'll be very bored with this game and done with it, but February.

Who knows though the game is young and I'm sure they have many unforeseen things planned so maybe by next fall I could be giving the game a 9 out of 10 time will tell. But right now they have alot of kinks to work out and its lack of really ground breaking new features sort of has me a little sad. The companion system I think is the main new addition to MMOs and the legacy stuff has potential to be so as well ... beyond that ... this is WoW .. EQ all over again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Old Republic

This eve hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) of nerds will be installing (many have been playing for days) THE OLD REPUBLIC.

Thus the dawning of a new era is upon us ... sort of ... as much as can be so given we are talking about the launch of a new massive multiplayer online video game based upon a science fiction franchise which dates to the late 1970s. To further reduce the newness or ground breaking potential of this game is that itself, will be the second iteration of an MMO based upon the venerable Star Wars franchise which launched with a bang and went out with a whimper and still has seared rage into many for all time.

Yet I predict that The Old Republic will break new ground and set the standard for the future of not just MMOs but all video games. I have recently been experiencing many things with gaming, all gaming and seen more and more opportunity for tabletop gaming become diminished due to the utter proliferation of video games and internet based technology. I've gained new understanding for games and the place the hold for me and come to new realizations about games. These things are mostly bad for me from a nostalgia perspective, as I'd love to see tabletop gaming go on forever. It will for some people and for the world in general but likely not for me. The day will come soon that I probably won't be doing any tabletop gaming at all.

So much to say in such a short time, the wall of text that I am fond of. That alone, the fact that people are so unwilling to even read a few paragraphs anymore tips the hand a little. That is the issue I'm talking about here, with so much choice, so many distractions and only so much time ... can tabletop gamers handle yet another distraction this big?? For me ... probably not ... this might be enough to send tabletop gaming in my life into the 100 mile below the surface of the planet doomsday shelter ... for good.

Tabletop games are dying because people are too lazy, too busy and generally too distracted to engage in them. Learning cumbersome, less than perfect board, miniature and role playing game rules to play with impatient people who just want to get back to their video games and internet based devices is becoming more and more difficult for people like me. Lets not even talk about mini games really ... because assembling ... painting ... then learning said rules then running the stinking store troll power gamer gauntlet ... more and more people are simply saying no thank you.

Strangers in strange lands as it were, people like me cast adrift in the sea of gaming. People who don't have that long standing gaming group where everyone in the group has known each other since high school. One can scoff and think "well it doesn't apply to me so I don't care", oh but it does because bit by bit tabletop gaming is fraying at the edges and it is for this very reason. People are slowly being so heavily bombarded with choice via the internet and technology and there is such heavy overlap with tabletop gaming, and since tabletop gaming lives in that bubble of disposable time ... it is very susceptible to impact from video games and other similar net based diversions/time wasters/pass times.

I believe that the old republic will hasten this fraying a bit, that more people will forsake more face to face gaming in favor of just staying home and playing some Old Republic. Star Wars I think as much if not more so than World of Warcraft did, captures the imaginations of gamers. Particularly for the Gen X folks who have spent their entire lives living with some form of Star Wars. You couple just the numbers and common sense rhetoric with the Bioware (wildly popular game producer) and their deep pocket parent company Electronic Arts is doing in conjunction with Lucas Arts. Now yes Lucas has made some huge mistakes over the years, and no one seems to have anything but disdain for episodes 1-3 of the franchise, yet, there are few examples of more commercial success. The can put the Star Wars label on nearly anything and people will buy it and buy it in bulk. So what is going to happen when the take the formula that Blizzard used with WoW and mix it with the product line that geeks can never seem to get enough of ... fizzy lifting drink ... erm ... well an irresistible product that is going to do catastrophic harm to geeks all over the planet (likely myself included). Yes this harm will be self imposed by consenting, presumably intelligent, presumably responsible, adults (and their kids who will be along for the ride).

I have played The Old Republic for 3 or so days now ... I'm up to level 25 on a Sith Inquisitor (sorcerer, going heals). The game has all the fine points of wow, easy interface, Pavlovian reward system that has one salivating level after level, etc. etc. You get ships and lots of choice in the storyline which influences all sorts of things from your future choices to the kind of gear you can acquire to I believe even how you look (I swear as I get darker my Sith changes in appearance ... maybe its just me willing that to be the case). I see the writing on the wall for myself, I will fall down the rabbit hole again and this time, just based on being disillusionment with tabletop gaming in general, I don't know if I'll come back from it. Certainly I will do tabletop gaming with my kids as they grow that is a given, but I don't know, as more and more games like this and Skyrim are released its getting closer and closer to those elements of good tabletop gaming that I know and love. Ya ya ya ... but the social ... but the face to face ... but .. but. But the anti-social, borish, power gaming, jerk, flake, etc. etc. that goes along with tabletop gaming. For people like me who are looking for new people to game with that is what is encountered. With MMOs, you can just turn off general chat, don't play on PVP servers, etc. and then if you want to do stuff with other players online, look around and find them and everyone is a power gamer, everyone is a jerk so its par for the course and you don't have to sit across a table with them, you might have to listen to them squeaking and squawking in vent ... (until you get them booted from the guild on trumped up charges .. kidding .. kidding ... well ...).

I jest really I don't know if tabletop gaming can die for me and I know I've lamented about it here many times but that is what this place is, its a way to just put things out there, graffiti on the wall of the internet that might get read by someone on the train on their way to work or something. Its just my way to say things and maybe someone reads them, maybe not, I write it down for my own catharsis that is all. Just some observations by one random gamer geek in suburban northern Utah ...

We will see what The Old Republic does to tabletop gaming, again I don't predict tabletop gaming will die, this game isn't that big, the numbers will be big but it will still be small by comparison to games like Call of Duty or Madden 381 (or whatever number they are on) ... but it strikes at the core of tabletop gaming as much or more than any game that has come out in awhile. So it might have some measurable negative impact on the tabletop gaming industry and/or on ones own local gaming group ... only time will tell.

For those who are going to be partaking ... happy hunting and have a glorious time!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

300 hours of Skyrim!


Erm ...

Well I feel like after 300 hours there I should be really be relocating to Skyrim. I mean I grew up, got married, bought several homes, became a prominent citizen and then idled away days patrolling the wilds with my uber-warrior-wife keeping the realm safe :) I'll share some screen shots of my game. It was a wild, fun ride, alot of vanilla and generic fantasy video game stuff but there were some little gems here and there. Some great dungeons and plot twist curves, etc. I feel like it was time well spent as far as gaming time goes.

If only real life could equate to this kinda thing eh? (KIDDING BTW ... this vanilla one dimensional while diverting for an evening would likely be a living hell that the Truman Show had nothing on :))

NO but in all seriousness Skyrim is a great solo-D&D emulator basically. Yet another title that WoTC should have come out with eons ago eh? This game is what I longed for decades ago as a kid. It is far from perfect, its very buggy and glitch ridden. However none of the bugs I encountered broke the game or prevented me from doing whatever it was I was doing. I have had a few crashes here and there but have yet to lose more than a few seconds of game time as a result. All in all its a really good game.

My biggest criticisms are as follows:

1) Zero story based interaction with followers

2) Too few factions ... yes for an elder scrolls game I was a little dissapointed at the lack of that many factions. With such a big game I'd have hoped for more.

3) End game is a little lackluster. Ok I know there will likely be alot of mods, DLC, etc. for this so the jury is out a bit on this one but at lvl 50 having done the core storyline stuff a few times now on different characters ... I wish there were some real end game challenges. There are none.

To go into detail on my biggest complaint though it is the interaction with followers/spouses. For those who played fallout 3, Dragon Age or Mass Effect stuff you might expect a game like Skyrim to take the relationships between followers down the same path in terms of unique storylines with the followers. Nope. Skyrim for as many leaps forward as it makes, is a dud in terms of storyline with followers. The overall storylines to me were well done and satisfying, just don't expect to find an able companion and have their story catch you up in unforseen things. That doesn't happen in skyrim at all. The marriage thing is also just a minor afterthought/footnote which produces nothing more than someone to hang out in your house and give you 100 gold a day from the "store" they open in your house. Again the store is nothing more than an added dialog option with said wife/husband (ya you can same sex marry if that is your thing or if yea be a girl you can have a husband, etc.).

The bugs, etc. to me are to be expected and I don't consider those all that bad. All in all my criticisms aside here, I would still rate this game like a 9.5 out of 10. It is the best game I've played in years. Limbo and Witcher included :)

First image here is a domestic disturbance when my first characters wife's boyfriend showed up at our home half way across the map, weeks of game time after we'd been married. Of course I flew into a jealous rage, killed him, then looted the corpse. She wouldn't talk to me for four days of game time, then went back to normal and never breathed a word about any of it again :)

The masks and other rare armor and weapons are the end game basically ... collecting armor and whatnot ... been there done that ... in a solo game like this there seems to be even less point than in an MMO ... sigh ...

Hey buddy can you help my game bug-clone he is fused into the ground somehow ...