Jun 25, 2010

[Get Out of the Fire, Noob!]

Apparently, the people who don't seem to ever notice they're standing in Puddles of Death (a familiar aspect of WoW raiding) aren't actually morons. Studies have shown it's a common mental block people experience if they're concentrating on a very specific pattern or goal.

Does knowing this change some folks' opinions of teammates who they otherwise would've though were just being dumb? Would it make you less judgmental next time you see someone who seems to completely lack situational awareness in a raid, knowing that it's not necessarily a reflection on their overall intelligence or gaming ability?

Jun 24, 2010

[Online Harassment is not 'Harmless']

...Because sometimes, that internet troll is not 'just' an internet troll:

"John was a member of my World of Warcraft guild, and someone who trolled me frequently. I recognized him instantly from the photos he had shared with the guild. He was misogynist who had been at odds with me for months; he’d called me derogatory names and he was absolutely enraged when I passed my trial in the guild because he believed females shouldn’t raid in what was formerly an all-male guild. Though the officers were initially hesitant to do anything about the situation, exercising their privilege to dismiss his misogyny as casual ribbing, his behavior got too far out of hand (in their opinion, not mine) that they eventually demoted him to a casual rank and he was no longer allowed to raid with them anymore because of his remarks and general attitude.

Ideally, the guild would have stripped him of his status and make attempts to correct his behavior the instant he displayed these traits, but the relaxed attitude of the officers towards misogyny and other issues of gender was common amongst the Warcraft elite. Any attempt to speak out would cause one to be shouted down for being “dramatic,” a commonly used accusation and a dismissal of misogyny as nothing more than a female’s attempt to make a big deal out of nothing, which also served to further empower the misogynists. It felt like a boy’s club, and it was.

I was young, naive and determined to not let John or anyone else ruin the game for me, so instead of finding a new guild despite the hostility I constantly faced, I simply stayed and held my ground. This action, inevitably, made John quite angry. A few nights prior, as I would learn later from interrogating guild mates, John joked to his friends on another forum that he was going to pay me a little visit to snap a few photos of where I lived and 'put me in my place.'

Apparently, John wasn’t bluffing."

This is why I get so pissed of when people dismiss or mock people who are victims of online harassment/threats (such as Kathy Sierra, Mia Rose, and Jade Raymond) for taking it seriously, because 'its just the internet'. In this day and age where so many people put their entire life's information online somewhere, it is completely appropriate to take this kind of thing seriously. Minimizing vicious verbal abuse against ANYONE (be it on a gaming guild, message board, whatever) and tolerating it is irresponsible on the part of community moderators and GMs. I know a certain amount of bigotry and harassment is considered 'normal' in many gaming communities (and is the reason why so many end up homogenous and repellant to anyone who isnt white/het/male), but as I've posted before, for some of these guys, they're not 'just joking'. They don't deserve safe spaces to spew their garbage under some disingenuous 'free speech' claim.

Related reading: 'On Being a No-name Blogger Using Her Real Name'

Jun 16, 2010

[Ether Saga Online Review Part 3: Gameplay]

[Part 1] [Part 2]

There are several 'open PvP' and PvE realms on each server. Groups of guilds ('Clans') can make formal Alliances with each other and fight other Alliances for control of specific regions of the game (details about territory wars are here). Winning 'dominance' over a region awards Alliance members special mounts, items, titles, etc. There are generally three or four top Alliances that actively compete per server. Towns and some quest hubs are 'safe zones' where PvP is prohibited. Until you reach level 45, you can't participate in PvP outside of duels, and the more you kill other players, the higher chance you have of dropping items when killed. More details about the PK system are here. Different realms have different PvP and PvE events that occur on them periodically, which are announced gamewide.

Cash Shop:
There are typical F2P items in the shop: vanity outfits, inventory expansion items, mounts, and items that improve the chances of successful gear upgrading and pet melding. The Cash Shop mounts range from 10$ to about the same as a Sparklepony, but they only barely travel faster than running. They're mostly a decorative item it seems, and since you can get basic mounts with ingame money (as well as getting ones as quest/PvP rewards), shelling out real-life cash for one isn't really necessary.
Some of the CS prices seem kind of high, at least compared to other F2Ps I've played. My usual budget for a F2P is around 10-15$ a month, which would allow me to get a few convenience or fluff items a month easily, however in ESO stuff like outfits would be much more of a once-in-a-while splurge. So far, the only thing I've felt I HAD to buy was a Mystery Pouch (which is a one slot item that stores crafting materials and such outside of your main bag, which is a big help since bag space is limited).

There are five main types of quests in the game:
Training Quests (Gold): The 'main storyline' quests, which should be done first.
Fate Quests (Blue): Grind quests, basically. Good for making up the xp you've lost after dying, to hit a certain level to do the next Training Quest, or just want to kill stuff for a while.
Basic Quests: A rotating selection of quests available on bulletin boards in town. Some give special rewards.
Adventure Quests (Yellow): Quests that have to be completed in an instance dungeon.
Ethyr Quests (Green): Quest chains that reward you with a new class spell at the end.

Quest flow is practically nonexistant. Many send you to the same place at different times, different quest chains that cover the same 'storyline' are not grouped together and so you end up backtracking and wandering all over the place a lot. The problem is lessened if you stick to Training Quests as much as possible, but for completionists like me it can be a bit maddening. Positively, there are way more quests than you really need to level and they're generous with exp, so you can easily afford to skip the most inconvenient ones. The irony is that mobs lower their chance to drop items the more you outlevel them, which includes quest drops, so putting off some quests for too long can make them hard to complete if you outgrow the mobs too much. Having a healing pet is vital if you want to solo some quests easily (this may depend on your class; right now I'm playing a Mystic which is not a heavy armor class).

Overworld quests are not hard, and the majority are just grind to be honest. But non-elite mobs die so fast, it really doesn't feel that bad. Some quests give an item as a reward called a 'Possessor', which is basically a bot that you can set up to kill things for you while you chat or whatever. At first I didn't know what to make of a game that has botting built-in as a game mechanic, but for some strange reason it works in ESO. I wonder if the huge number of mobs + Possessors was intended as a way for 'normal' people to be able to compete with goldfarmers and therefore not feel like their game is being ruined by them? I will guiltily admit it's kind of nice to be able to farm stuff overnight while I sleep in real life. Of course, 'Possessing' on a PvP server is something you do at your own risk. You lose 5% of your exp each death, but you don't lose levels and can easily gain it back again.

Completing Adventure Quests seems to be difficult when you're starting out. There is no global LFG channel or tool, which makes finding groups when you're a newbie pretty hard. There is no global chat unless you're a member of a Clan/Alliance or buy the privilege via the Cash Shop. So for someone just starting out, it can be a bit lonely. Many of the guilds advertising on the official forums have minimum level requirements so it'll be a bit still before I can start shopping for a clan of my own. Until then, I'll have to be content with soloing and trying to make new friends as I meet folks along the way.

The community is helpful on the forums, where it's easy to ask questions and get tips if you're a newbie. Meeting people ingame is harder, but I find that to be the case in most MMOs when you're starting out, especially ones as solo-friendly as ESO. I think if more F2Ps had functional LFG systems ingame it would be a big improvement -- most of the ones I've played have little to no way for people to easily connect with others who need/want a group. Not sure why that is, to be honest. The most populated realms are the PvP ones (Realm 8 in particular), and since you are safe from open PvP until you're level 45, they're a good place to start on if you want to meet people.

Technical Issues: There's also periodic lagging and some minor bugs, though nothing gamebreaking that I've experienced so far. Translation is also bit clunky and inconsistant, but since the story isn't a very important part of the game, it's not a big deal.

Overall, the game's strengths:
Beautiful, colorful world and art design
Pet System
Open PvP (if you're into that sort of thing)
Ability to solo dungeon bosses if you make the right gear
Auto-travel (click NPC names in quest log, etc and walk there automatically)
Easy to get into

It's weaknesses:
Grindy quests, which is a shame because the environments are so interesting, you'd think there would be deeper stories around them.
Item enhancement/pet capture attempts fail very often, which eat up mats (and add cost).
Quest drops are affected by the 'anti farming' mechanics
Hard to make ingame money starting out

Ether Saga is not an 'immersive roleplaying world' by any stretch (and it doesn't try to be) but it's still a pretty fun game. It's a 'RPG' in the same way Pokemon is, rather than the way Everquest II (or even WoW) is. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you're in the mood for. If you're highly allergic to grind, and want a MUD-based serious RPG, ESO isn't going to fit that bill. But it's a cute little game that's easy to get into and has some fun elements that can get surprisingly deep if you want to get serious about them. If anything, it's worth a try (I'll be sticking with it for awhile, since I'm on yet-another WoW hiatus).

Jun 11, 2010

[Ether Saga Online Review Part 2: Pets]

[Part 1 is here]

Since money is pretty tight at low levels (item drops sell for only pennies to NPCs, since the game has a player shop system), some early quests will helpfully give you the basic items you need to start taming monsters. Pets can be used as stat-boosts for their owners as well as buffers/healers and tank/damage roles. Each monster 'family' has different strengths and weaknesses to other families, so knowing what you're going to be going up against helps in deciding which pets you want to use in a given situation.

Monster taming and Melding is one of those things that is simple on the surface, but can get complex if you're aiming for a specific combination of stats. I had a sinking feeling as I remembered how 'selective breeding' for the best stats in Pokemon was a serious obsession of mine, and I think ESO's pet system is similar enough to present a real threat to my free time. =P

Pets have the basic atk/def/etc combat stats, a certain number of skill slots, an elemental affinity (or not), a personality type, and a certain 'growth rate' that affects how much certain stats will grow each time the pet levels, which varies between individual monsters. Since pets can be 'Fused' to a player to serve as a type of stat boost as well as being used as a combat ally, there are different strategies involved in pet Melding depending on what you want to use the final pet for. Since their personality affects stat growth, you want those to match, too. Catching several of a type of monster, sifting through them for the best individuals, and then Melding them together in order to end up with a superior custom pet can be an entire 'endgame' in and of itself. And ON TOP of all that, is that whenever two pets are Melded, there is a chance for an Appearance Mutation to occur, which can result in you getting a monster that's impossible to tame from the wild. There are several guides on the official boards that go deeper into the min/max aspects of Melding, as well.

I'm still too low level (and poor) to get into serious high level pet development, but I'll be experimenting with some simpler aspects to get a better feel for how the system works in the meantime. So far it looks like it could be pretty fun for a former Pokemon addict like me.

Next up: my thoughts on Ether Saga's general gameplay, cash shop, community, and related miscellany.

Jun 8, 2010

[Ether Saga Online Review: Part One]

Leala over as Spouse Aggro was talking about how cute this game was, so I ventured over to the official site to check it out. It has tameable combat pets! So I had to give it a try. =P

Ether Saga is a Chinese F2P MMO based on The Journey to the West with a lot of neat little pet features: Pet taming (you can go out into the wilds and capture various monsters), Pet Fusion (where you combine with a pet to gain stat bonuses), and Pet Melding (mixing two pets to create a new pet with improved stats). Plus, there are special items you can get that can allow you to become a monster yourself for a time and benefit from special attributes. Sounds fun!

Character creation is very sparse, but the designs are pretty, so I didn't mind too much. There are three races: humans (Ren), demigods (Shenzu), and animals that were given humanity by the gods (Yaoh). The three are basically identical except for appearance options and starting pets. Based on your character's race/birthday, you get unique skills every 10 levels. I chose a Yaoh as my first character, because of their nifty fox pet.

Upon appearing in the starter zone, the first NPC I met gifted me with a large package of free potions, food, and a present that I can open at level 5. Nice! Plus, the NPCs speak Chinese when you click on them, which I love (the Russian emotes were something I really liked about Allods Online too).

I started exploring the UI, since that's what I always do first in a new game. I found that you can't reduce the UI scale (booo), or adjust/remove chat boxes, which was kind of disappointing since they take up a lot of screen space. But I also found that there's vanity gear slots (woot!) and that I already had a set of 'for show' clothes that I could toggle on and off from the paperdoll window. Also, you can apparently rate other players up and down (from a menu that appears when you click on them), which interesting way of giving public reputation to players. There's apparently PvP and the ability for guilds to control certain zones (going by the global messages I keep seeing) but I have yet to look into that aspect yet. Apparently, killing equally- or higher-leveled players has a chance of dropping loot for the winner, which is interesting. There are also timed server events of various kinds going on regularly, and the game keeps you posted about what's happening in the world at any given time.

The newbie zone quests are really friendly: I got a (pretty!) free armor set, various potions and +XP items, a second pet as a quest reward, and one timed kill quest even gave my 5 levels worth of xp in a single turn-in. One downside for some people may be that the countryside is literally swarming with mobs that repop almost instantly (an attempt to minimize the impact of farmers, perhaps?) -- I actually turned off monster nameplates just so they weren't such an eyesore because really, the game is beautiful to look at. The visuals remind me of The Secret of Mana's artstyle, which I like a lot. Quests are pretty much basic 'kill stuff' types, which I personally don't mind at all (I have a pretty high grind tolerance, especially when the mobs only take like 2 seconds to die). Translation is another thing that's a bit clunky in places, and the storyline is a bit hard to follow, but I doubt there's an epic novel going on here, even in the original language.

Once I hit level 15 (levels have come quickly in the first few hours I've played), I can begin taming wild monsters as pets, which is the main gameplay aspect I want to try out. I'll be focusing on that in part two.