Category Archives: We’re not in Azeroth anymore
Casa de Grimmtooth exists in the path that Hurricane Irma took, and as a result we lost internet connectivity for over a week. Fortunately, I have plenty of games loaded up on my PC that have received little love while I was playing WoW, and do not require The Internets.
This window of time gave me ample opportunity to fully evaluate and compare some games that had especially languished while I went and did other thingys.
Here, then, are some mini reviews and in some cases, final reviews.
Of all the games I’ve recently purchased, this is the one I was most eager to get. I’ve been playing it on and off since before Blizzcon 2016, and yet I have not finished a single game.
Once we got power back after Irma, this was the first one I fired up, and played it for three days solid (in between things such as cleaning up and stuff). Finally, I’ve had time to come to the realization that Civ 6 is no where near the game that Civ 4 was. Civ 5 also suffered from that, but it grew up to be a much better game with a few DLCs. Civ 6 isn’t even as fun as Civ 5, though.
The problems with Civ 6’s core mechanics, however, will never allow for basic improvement unless some core mechanics changes come with any future DLC. It’s a lovely game, with some interesting takes on the original, but in the long run it just isn’t Civilization. It’s a game that looks like Civilization but isn’t Civilization, made by some company in China looking to rope in a few rubes.
The next time I get some time for extended play, I’ll go back to Civ 5, to see if I’m just growing disenchanted with the series and misremember my experience with Civ 5, or if Civ 6 truly took a wrong turn.
Sorry, Sid. But this wouldn’t be your first miscue.
Railroad Tycoon 3
My existing copy of RRT3 is only on CD, along with the Coast to Coast patch. It was the final game I picked up during the outage. Even with its terrible graphics, I feel it holds up over time. I really wish I had bought it via some service like GoG, but I hadn’t. (Of course, if there are no improvements with the GoG version, why bother, amirite? Weeellllll … I had to go dig out the “play” CD just to run it, so maybe it is. Hm. /ponder)
I mentioned Sid Meier’s previous miscue earlier, and here it is. The successor to this game was a game called “Railroad!”, which was so horrible that it took very little time to kick it to the curb. Even the master can mis-read the curve.
It was so bad, I didn’t even keep the discs. And I never throw anything away. Just ask Mrs Grimm.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Here’s an oldie but a goodie that got acquired by Stardock, which also makes a rival game (Galactic Civilizations). Hopefully that does not bode ill for SoaSE, because I’ve tried both but only bought one of them. And it wasn’t GalCiv.
This game is often described as a cross between the 4X genre and RTS genre. I’m not sure how that’s really applicable – once you hit RTS territory, you’re an RTS. Any 4X elements are secondary at that point. Besides, every RTS I’ve ever played generally has elements of the other three X’s in it, so it’s not really a distinction I care to make.
Having said that, here’s the prognosis. Whether or not it’s a true 4X game, I really do like playing it, and it has enough challenge to it without ROFLstomping your ass at ever turn, but you don’t get a free pass, either. It’s balanced, and fun, and that says a lot for any game.
Which brings me to the final one.
I had really high hopes for this one, but never really spent enough time with it to get a handle on it. This down period gave me ample opportunity to give it a thorough examination. And in the end, I was really, really disappoint.
I never really got out of the opening game. Ever. I’m usually pretty good at this stuff, but the tech tree was so opaque, the diplomacy so ragged around the edges, and the gradients between “best friend” and “deadly enemy” so steep that there was never a point where I found myself in a position to be able to survive in the galaxy even as an inoffensive empire. I could spend every spare credit on improving my space fleet, upping the warmonger ante as much as possible, and every. single. time. I would be ambushed by a far superior fleet of ships, far advanced to mine and far superior in numbers.
There wasn’t a single game in which I didn’t find myself hopelessly mismatched somewhere in between when destroyer and cruiser tech were discovered. I’d meet two or three alien races, we’d say “hi” and form cordial and friendly relations between us, and then the next one would come along and rattle its sabre, at which point any of the three possible responses (“hi”, “don’t hurt me”, and “die, alien scum”) resulted in almost instant attack and the enemy entering my homeworld’s space without any sign of scouting – an impossibility for myself since in order to attack something, I have to know where it is. In other words, it really looks like the AI is cheating.
This happened every time. Without fail.
I reiterate, I don’t suck at this genre. I’ve played 4X games enthusiastically since they first appeared on 8-bit platforms (Reach for the Stars, anyone?), and I am here to tell you that this game lacks some serious balance. A good 4X game will challenge you enough at low levels so that you feel like you’re encountering some resistance, and yet give you at least a random chance to win every now and then.
Sure, I’ve had opening scenarios that landed me on worthless starting planets and poor luck in exploring, but never so consistently.
At the end, it was a completely unfun game and I’m pretty much on the edge of uninstalling it for good.
Don’t be that game.
At the end of the day, the most fun had was with Railroad Tycoon and Sins of a Solar Empire. Both are strong entries in their genres, and present challenges no matter your skill level, with the means to adjust as you get better at it. I am especially fond of SotSE’s depiction of space battles, which feel epic and meaningful and urgent all at the same time. In many ways, it reminds me of Gratuitous Space Battles, only with depth and situational awareness.
The real funny part of the Internet Crisis of 2017 is that once service was restored to our area, we were still out of service. It turns out that we had an amp hooked up to an external power socket that had a GFI breaker in it, and when the power did its final flicker, it popped that breaker. Here I am, the mighty Electronics Tech of days past, and I didn’t even think to look at that. Yeah yeah, I wasn’t actually aware it was there, but point is I didn’t even look. What eggs that didn’t get pitched, were on my face 🙂
The internets and WoW have been embraced within our loving arms, and we’re back to letting our souls drain down a coax cable. So life is back to what passes for normal around here. I’m just glad to have alternatives.
For the next go-round, I plan on getting the GoG edition of RRT3 and downloading some mods for SotSE (Star Trek, Star Wars, and Babylon 5), and maybe getting up to speed with The Settlers on Steam. That was always one of my favorites.
Right now I’m looking at Hurricane Maria, as it grinds on the edges of the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico has been clobbered, may not even have electricity for three to six months. So I’m not winge-ing over a week without internets. In the long run, we were supremely lucky. If you pray, pray for Puerto Rico and all points in the path of Maria. This is a gaming blog, about gaming shit, but real life Doth Intrude from time to time.
Why so Handsy?
You may have seen the cinematic that deals with “The Fate of Xe’ra”. Here’s a link if you want to watch. Note it contains spoilers for the Argus campaign, which you may wish to experience in pristine purity of the pure. In which case, close this article now and come back when you have been pristinely enlightened purely.
We’ll wait until you leave …
Okay, here we go.
My adventures in Elite: Dangerous and Eve Online ((Not shown.)) have highlighted some things that have come out, albeit peripherally, in research. Namely, that third person perspective and first person perspective have profound effects on the immersion that one experiences when playing a game – and how one approaches playing that game.
A while back a guy did an experiment with a VR harness coupled with a camera and a shoulder-mounted scaffold that gave people the viewpoint they would have in an MMO in third-party – say, for example, WoW ((Alas, I’m missing the link to the actual research video – it was before the Oculus, I can say that for sure.)).
You may be familiar with this in WoW. You’re sitting at the mailbox, going through the daily hate mail from Arthas and Deathwing, when some tool runs up to you, plants his pixlelly ass in between you and the mailbox, and proceeds to jump up and down.
And jump up and down.
And jump up and down.
And jump up and down.
And jump up and down.
And … well, you get the idea.
Turns out, a VR+Camera rig that gives you the same viewpoint on real life … makes you act exactly the same way you would in an MMO in which you play from the third party viewpoint.
Now, I hasten to emphasize that the experimenter did not indicate whether hir test subjects were frequent gamers, which would tend to skew the behavior a bit ((After all, a familiar environment makes you act in familiar ways.)), but I have to say this: even if the only place you do that sort of thing is in an MMO, you’re still … kind of an asshole. Sorry.
Now, getting in someone’s face and jumping up and down is small potatoes compared to other things that people playing in 3PP ((Third Party Perspective – my keyboard is old.)) frequently do. They tend to – apparently – not believe that the people they are interacting with are real, and thus they treat those people as if they are not people. Now, personally, I tend to not treat non-people like shit just because I can because I’m not an asshole ((At least, not that kind of asshole.)) but there seems to be a lot of people that treat abstract entities online badly if they can, because they can.
And here, at last, I get to the point of contrast between Eve Online and Elite: Dangerous.
Eve plays constantly in a third party mode, even when docked. You’re actually viewing your SHIP in 3PP, not even yourself, in that game.
Elite, on the other hand, sticks you in the cockpit and leaves you there. To view your ship in 3PP, in fact, is a DEBUG control. And you can’t do much of anything in debug mode.
If you follow Eve’s politics and drama even peripherally, you’ll know that in 0sec space, no one’s safe unless you have some sort of protection from the “corps” ((“Corporations”, or, to place it in familiar terms, the Eve analog to WoW guilds.)), you’ll probably end up podded ((Doing the monochrome marathon, in WoW parlance.)). At the upper levels, there is constant backstabbing and outright crimes against fellow corp-mates, sometimes taking down entire corps. Basically, everything goes, and while the game’s creators may not encourage this sort of behavior, they don’t discourage it, either. Honestly, they don’t really appear to care.
In Elite, the same lack of constraints on one’s behavior exist, but running into this sort of situation is extremely rare. I’ve been attacked by other players for no real reason from time to time, but it’s rarely malevolent in nature – i.e., just a pirate, doing his job. They’ve even offered to help me out before shooting me up for non-response.
The best example of this is the Goonswarm. In Eve, the Goonswarm is a force to be reckoned with. They have taken over entire corps, terrorize 0sec space, and generally specialize in griefing.
Goonswarm exists in Elite, as well, but they are oddly ineffective. They have all the tools they need to effect a system-wide shutdown – which they attempted – except, of course, the whole ‘corp’ framework, which can be replaced by an external framework like Mumble – but as it turns out, lowly CMDRs like me just skooched along and took care of business. Eventually, the lack of dread and loathing from the general population caused the Goonies to lose interest. When nobody reacts to trolls, they go elsewhere looking for attention.
The entire Elite community has, at least in-game, been extremely polite and helpful. The worst behavior I’ve seen has been in system-wide chat, which is a newly implemented feature, and the behavior is consistent with the 3PP theory – people in a chat window aren’t people, so you can treat them like shit without repercussions. ((Frontier hasn’t really addressed anything about chat channel terrorism at this point, and, given their track record, they likely never will. Not on the roadmap.)).
There are dozens of potential causes for this disparity between the two games that are otherwise very similar, so I won’t draw a conclusion as to cause. All I want to do here is point out that research that I’ve mentioned before, and note that what we see in the skew between Eve and Elite tracks very well with those conclusions.
The message you get in Elite is that piloting a starship is a very personal thing. It isn’t an abstract thing involving armadas and ‘swarms’. It’s just you, your starship, and the Big Black.
Does this mean I would switch to FPP in WoW to try to replicate this experience? Not likely. WoW is designed around a different paradigm than Elite is, and doesn’t enforce the other players playing the same way, so I don’t see any point to it. Though, I will note, that it does suggest an interesting thing.
To wit: What if everyone in WoW was forced to first person perspective? Would the social dynamics of the game shift significantly?
Talk amongst yourselves.
Over the course of a couple of decades, I have pined for an experience I enjoyed back in the 80s thanks to a little 8-bit game called Elite. When I heard that one of the original creators was bringing the game into the 21st Century as an MMO-ish sort of thing, I was verra excite. It was launched this past December, but I held off for a few reasons.
- Draenor had my full attention
- The game had some … quirks to work out.
- The game had some system requirements that were a bit out of my processing budget ((Including a Joystick. Who has those, anymore?)).
Recently I’ve acquired the necessary horsepower and enough dosh to buy the thing, so I did so and, for the past three weeks or so, have been alternating my time between alt-ing in WoW and flying a Sidewinder from the rim of the galaxy towards Sol. For most of that time, I’ve been blogging about it.
It’s just me telling my story. No tutorials, no how-tos – unless it’s in-character, in which case it’s usually lessons learned. I do post links to useful sites I find, so feel free to name-drop.
Speaking of which, if you happen to be playing, feel free to drop me a line and add me to your friend – or fiend – list. I’ll add you back.
This is CMDR Grimmtooth, checking out to The Big Black.
When I was created ((Floramel is having a Bob Dole moment, obviously, and is talking about herself in second person.)), there was a certain look we were going for. A kind of not-quite-pissed-off-at-everyone-but-I-might-start-with-you mien, if you will. It seemed that would be a good fit for a warlock, as opposed to the so-happy-to-be-burning-you-to-cinders look cultivated by Hydra.
True, there was the regrettable incident of the ten thousand yard stare that happened waaaay back in 2.4, and the not really successful foray into Neverwinter, but overall we had a look and demeanor we were shooting for.
A Warlock at work
So there’s this fine representation from the current content. Note that a sensible warlock dresses sensibly when roaming the countryside. I’d lose the pauldrons if I could, but that’s the shakes right now.
As you probably know, WoD is revamping all the character models, which, apparently, includes me. WoWHead has a way to view your characters by loading them off the Armory. You can probably see where that’s headed.
Not my home planet
Now, if you were I, which I am, you might recoil in shock at the changed visage. And possibly be a bit angry, for a good reason. No, it isn’t because I hate change, but because Blizzard made a promise – we would not need a free character modification token, they said, because they were going to make the new models true to the old ones, and thus our new models would be entirely satisfactory. As you can see, this is not true, and thus a LOT of people are upset ((Not illustrated literally: a “lot” of people. On account of I’m lazy.)).
However, it turns out that the work on the new models is not yet complete, and in most cases we are limited to the default faces.
I’m a little annoyed because this just means we’ll get fewer opportunities to see what’s what before it goes live, and I know how eager these people can be to grab at any excuse to do a half-assed job and then shrug ((Or worse – remember “Dance Studio?”)). Call me a cynic if you must, but therein is where my withered heart lies.
And then there’s this.
Wildstar chicks be like
Due to the incredible inanity of Blizzard’s senior staff’s behavior, I’ve actually taken to looking elsewhere for a new home, starting with a promising new game called Wildstar ((Which I may or may not review someday.)). I don’t think this is going to be home for a number of reasons ((Which I may or may not go in to someday.)), but I haven’t given up on it yet. Here is Flora the Spellslinger, and she looks pissed. Perfect. That’s the Flora we all know and loathe.
In this case, I think, we’re pissed about the incredibly tiny booty shorts. Because, omigawd. Have they forgotten how to make Levis in the distant future?
As with warlocks, leveling with a Spellslinger is hella fast, and it’s been a real joy blowing the bejeebus out of everything that comes near. I do miss my minions, but having gone the Science path, at least I have a little Scanbot.
I shall name him Impy.
After close to two months off the grid, this is what I returned to
This is the downside of using mailboxes to keep your stuff organized between you and various mules; anything not in bags evaporated into the Twisted Nether.
On the bright side, my nemesis appears to have disappeared again, and glyph prices are up from where they were when I left. I’m guessing that the number of glyph mongers have decreased faster than the server population as a whole.
Well, off to rebuild. Has anyone seen the ‘Open’ sign? It’s under this stuff somewhere …
We’re online again, though we had to wait until payday before we could actually re-enable our account. Blast and damn, not offline long enough for a Scroll of Rez, so no freebies for me or mine.
So what to do in between loads of freight? Looking around the F2P playground, I remembered that Neverwinter was in motion, so I’ve rolled up as Floramel-like a toon as possible, a control wizard that I hope to bend to warlock-like habits.
Character creation allows for a lot of individuality. It even allows for chunky body types, adjustment of individual face and body attributes (there are like seven nose adjustments!). My model is one of the more slender ones, so as you can see, no Barbie dolls here. Overall, very good.
Outfits are somewhat less flamboyant than one is used to in endgame WoW. However, I would point out that I actually like the models of the lower-level stuff in WoW better, as well, meaning that the higher level stuff in NW might suffer from the same ridiculous effects. Time will tell.
It’s also possible that the outfit models are limited ((Due to beta.)) at this time to a select set of looks. Through level 20, all outfits looked pretty much the same. Mogging ((They don’t call it that of course.)), however, is baked in to the basic interface.
Armor dye is also supported, though from the looks of it you will have to cough up some cash to get it, since it requires the "Zen" currency, and best I can tell, that’s a cashy money thing.
Some of the NPC character models suffer from what I would call "mannequin syndrome". So realistic, they look plastic. This is a Cryptic Studios product, so it probably shares a lot of DNA with City of Heroes and Star Trek Online – the former looks very similar to this game from a character and model perspective, including the character model creation process.
Graphics and visuals
Graphical details are sharp and clear, maybe too much so. WoW catches a lot of crap for its looks, but one thing that it has a lot of practice at is making things stick out in obvious ways. It’s not too difficult to find a mail box, or a vendor, even in a crowded room. And while I give Blizz hell for abolishing Night from the worlds, realistic and dark shadowing makes everything kind of bland and difficult to deal with.
It’s real easy to walk into a mob, too – no little nameplates over their heads!
The controls take getting used to. Part of that is just the usual "this is a different game" thing, but there are elements that just stink of "let’s do something different just to be different." You are seriously constrained on what you can have on your action bar, too – unlike the ten or so action bars with ten buttons each that you get with WoW, you get one action-bar-like interface in this game, and it’s very small as well.
Aim matters. You don’t click on a mob and then start beating / shooting him, you have to aim and then whatever you are aiming at is hit. Fortunately, there’s no friendly fire outside of PvP. Right-click actually defaults to an attack, so for a former WoW player, ‘F’ to interact is a bit awkward.
In combat, activity is pretty lively. I’d love to have some countdown timers visible at eye level, but on the plus side you can move your action bar – which does have countdown timers – to wherever you want.
Similar to CoH, a sparkly trail of lights appears to direct you to the next point of interest in your current quest. This is highly intelligent and also a rebuttal to the trope that Blizz has nerfed the game too much. Others are way ahead of them in some ways.
Lootable items are very clearly denoted, including caches you might find in your travels.
Interaction between the map and the world is pretty wretched. You can’t click a location and see the trail light up for it. And it’s a highly accurate replica of the real world, meaning it’s gloomy and low-contrast and difficult to read. Again, others win in this area.
Combat is very like any other game I’ve played – there is a strong emphasis on "don’t stand in fire" and button pushing and stacking debuffs and such. The big bads also have a very in your face element to them, and sometimes the graphics engine can’t keep up (though that may be my system more than the engine). Good example is the "treasure trapper" creature.
Other than in interaction with my companion, I really didn’t see much in the way of aggro mechanics, but what I saw was unsurprising and familiar.
Crafting includes the gathering of resources, and the creation of items from them, much like other games. Where this differs is interesting.
Gathering is done from caches. Caches are coded to skills that are native to specific classes; dungeoneering is tied to fighter types, arcane to wizards, religious to clerics, thieving to rogues, and so forth. You can buy kits to enable looting of caches outside of your class, and the kits drop from mobs as well.
Creating items is done by proxy. You hire a craftsman to go do things, and gather the results when they’re done. This can be administered from the web page for the game as well.
The gathering game seems to be more in service to itself than anything. "Oh here’s a random cache, oh, it contains a random pile of stuff."
Neither the crafting or gathering experience feel organic. But you could get used to it.
One difference in this game is that of companions. If you’ve played other Sword Coast games in the past, you’re probably familiar with the concept of companions. You get your first at 16, and it can be from one of the main classes. I chose a cleric because that seemed wise. ((I named her Jasra – don’t tell!))
The best unintended benefit of having a healer companion is that you start learning aggro management right away – or rather, how to keep aggro off of her. A dead healer heals no damage.
It appears that in each zone there is an ultimate dungeon / instance activity with five party members, and you don’t get the final lore payoff or zone closure if you don’t do them. Very WoW-like. I would have thought that they’d’ve noticed how many people would be thrilled to see instance scaling so that one to five people could share the experience rather than be stuck at five.
I didn’t participate as such so no further comment would be useful.
Well, this is where WoW is falling short, according to what I keep reading in the blogospheric echo chamber. Our "community" is becoming populated by a bunch of spoiled, lazy, racist, sexist, haters, is what I hear.
I am not going to delve into details, but I will say that until you have seen general chat in Neverwinter, you have no idea how bad it could be.
The community per se is no better or worse. What the big difference is that we’ve become pampered by the Blizzard Nanny State; any aberrations tend to stick out.
Sometimes you have to swim in the sewers to remember what shit really smells like.
It really does "feel" like Neverwinter. It also, however, feels a bit chaotic and frenetic. A lot of this, I’m sure, is due to the beta nature of the game at this time. Heck, I’m not even sure if the appearance of the armor in the game is due to design or because we’re still in beta and they haven’t completed all the models. I’m leaning towards the former because money.
And that brings me to the elephant in the room for this sort of game – how hard are they pushing to sell you cash shop items. Right now, for example, it looks like the only way to change your armor color is to buy "Zen" and then spend it on dyes. "Fine," you say, "cosmetic isn’t a big deal." Problem is, the kind of player that gives a game a soul tends to invest in a character, and care about appearances, and something like this could be discouraging to them.
The other items I saw were such as mounts and companion items, but no game-changing armor or weapons. So pay-to-win, not so much at the moment.
Overall, I like this game. It’s not yet complete, so time will tell if it has legs, and endgame content will drive a certain kind of player’s expectations. Disregarding that, the game is solid, and the leveling game thus far has been fun.
My time in Neverwinter is at an end; the WoW account is up and running, and we have some picking up to do.