Posts Tagged ‘Combat’

h1

A Champion Has Risen – Thoughts On Dragon Age II

March 24, 2011

Note: No spoilers, until the last few paragraphs, plenty of warning forthcoming.

Let me just start this post off by saying I was a huge, huge, huge, HUGE, HUGE fan of Dragon Age: Origins, so to say I was excited about Dragon Age II is the understatement of the year.

Of course, there were several things I was mindful of before playing. On top of some major changes to gameplay, I knew that DA2, while set in the same world and time period as its predecessor, will also take place in a different city and center around the life and adventures of a new protagonist, Hawke.

I won’t lie; there was just the teensiest twinge of disappointment when I first heard this news last year. Admittedly, so much of my enjoyment of the first game came out of my emotional investment into my human noble warrior, and the attachment I felt to her companions, the Grey Warden mythos, and Ferelden. Nevertheless, I was open to something new — change can be good, and BioWare has shown with Mass Effect that they are entirely capable of following up a game with a killer sequel.

So go ahead and bring it.

My verdict: mostly good. Make that mostly very, very good. Despite some minor issues I had with the gameplay and story, I can truthfully say without disguise or exaggeration that Dragon Age II is probably one of the best fantasy RPGs I have ever played.

First of all, certain aspects from the first game such as the conversation system and user interface have been improved or modified to be much more functional and enjoyable, which should make even the most casual fans of fantasy RPGs feel at home. Some of the changes and their similarities to Mass Effect were not lost on me, like the addition of the dialogue wheel and the removal of multiple character origins so that the player only has the choice of playing Hawke, though we are still free to choose the gender and class of our character.

Some of these changes may make the game more appealing to a wider audience. I seem to remember reactions and opinions being quite polarized when I think back to Dragon Age: Origins, as in people either loved it or couldn’t stand it at all. As much as I enjoyed the game, even now I’d hesitate to recommend DA:O to just anybody. With DA2, however, I think I’d feel a little more confident about doing so, knowing there might be a better chance it will be well-received.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the thing I liked most about the game is the story, and I think most of us will agree that that’s where the strength lies in any BioWare title. In fact, I think DA2 got the storytelling down so well, that it almost made the other RPG elements like combat feel trivial. I won’t deny that there were many moments of groaning and swearing at the computer screen — mostly times where I found myself being jumped by yet another gang of bandits, when all I could think was Arrgh! Get this stupid fight over with already so I can find out what happens next!

Uhhh...fine day for a bloodbath?

That’s not to say I felt combat was weak. Actually, I thought they’ve made it more fun and flexible than ever. Being tactical or not seems to be more of a choice. I did some micro-managing and issuing commands to my companions, but mostly I just played DA2 like any action game, hacking and slashing away with my warrior Hawke. Still, as much as I enjoyed splitting darkspawn skulls with my huge-ass sword and watching my foes explode before my unstoppable whirlwind ability, the novelty inevitably started to wear off and feel a little repetitive.

Hawke’s activities being restricted to the same city and its surrounding areas for the whole game probably didn’t help that very much. Dungeons all looked the same, and you also returned to some of them again and again. Kirkwall started to feel like a home, but it was still a bit of a downer to realize I wasn’t going to be adventuring anywhere else.

But like I alluded to before, the strength of this game and what makes up for its faults is its story, its elaborate twists and turns and the impact of the decisions you get to make. At first, I was a little skeptical. I was a couple hours in, and still there was no sign of any pressing danger, dire catastrophe, or malignant evil threatening to take over the world. Contrast that to Dragon Age: Origins, where almost immediately you are thrown into the midst of a blight and tasked to stop an archdemon. So, here was Hawke, running around doing quests in Kirkwall. What happened to my epic journey? Where’s the sense of urgency?

Dragon Age 2 turned out not to follow the basic formula, and I think I ended up liking the game better for it. Don’t panic — you still get to kill darkspawn and slay dragons, but for the most part, the story revolves around the politics and socio-cultural conflicts of Kirkwall. We only got a brief glimpse into the tensions between mages, the Templars, and the Chantry in the first game, so it was a pleasant surprise to be given the chance to delve further into these issues in the sequel. The set up made for more complex plotlines and having to make much more difficult decisions, which I can appreciate. I was not prepared for all the crazy surprises and shocking developments, but happy moments, sad moments, outrageous moments — I loved them all.

A fully-voiced and expressive Hawke.

One major change I loved about DA2 (and likely had a hand in improving the storytelling) was a fully-voiced and expressive Hawke. I can deal with silent, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it was in DA:O to see my Warden stare blankly into space like a storefront mannequin even during the most emotional situations. In DA2 I delighted in having my Hawke wrinkle her nose in disgust, narrow her eyes in annoyance, or raise her eyebrows in a questioning manner. It made my character feel like a more realistic and unique individual, and like in Mass Effect, being able to give responses that reflected different emotions (nice, sarcastic, aggressive, etc.) also allowed for some downright hilarious quest situations.

This also helped me form quick attachments to my Champion and her companions. I liked how there were a lot more ways to involve them in my conversations and interactions with the game environment, and there’s definitely a more authentic edge to the way my party members would act or speak. It made me approach my companions in a different way than in other Bioware games, like caring more about those I liked and treating the ones I disliked more harshly. Involving emotions and other believable elements in the game seemed to have led me to react to them in a more realistic manner as well.

*smooch* *smooch*

My romantic prospects, however, were another matter. In this area, I felt the first game handled things better, and it’s not just my bias for Alistair talking here, I swear! Simply put, in DA:O, romancing a companion felt like an epic tale unto itself; there was courtship, a clash of emotions, the surprises and unpredictability of a relationship, and the whole nine yards. As opposed to the innuendos and the sometimes cringe-worthy one-liners you get to spout in DA2 like a drunken date. Awkwaaaaard. And why is it that we are always stuck with emo guys?

Despite my little nitpicks, Dragon Age 2 is still overall a great game. I really can’t decide if I like it better than Dragon Age: Origins. Probably better, even though they both have their strong and weak points. However, one thing I know that can never be substituted is the warm and fuzzy feeling I first got when I played DA:O, that ineffable sensation that washed over me the moment I discovered I had a very special fantasy RPG on my hands. Like a first love, it’s a feeling that’s difficult to explain, once in a lifetime and unlikely to happen with any other Dragon Age title again. Still, while the first game will always be special to me, Dragon Age 2 is definitely a clear improvement overall. Bioware does it again, delivering a sequel absolutely worthy of its original.

Warning: Spoiler-free zone ends here. Do not read past image if you don’t want spoilers.

Spoilers ahead! Avert thine eyes!

For those curious as to what I did, I played a female warrior Hawke, customizing her to make her look as much as possible like my character from DA:O for old times’ sake. As I said, I tended to treat my companions in a more realistic manner in DA2, and one of the things my character would not tolerate was whenever one of my companions would willfully lie to her or deceive her. For example, when Isabela revealed that she knew more about her lost relic than she let on, I turned my back on her, making her up and leave me, never to return again. Whatever, good riddance, pirate wench.

My sister Bethany the mage also played a huge part in how I approached the Mage-Templar conflict. I played the part of the doting sister, defended good mages everywhere, and defied Templar demands wherever I could. Even my mother’s death did not sway me in thinking that all mages were ultimately dangerous and needed to be locked up. I even romanced Anders (even though out-of-character, I really didn’t want to, ugh!) and as crotchety as he was to all my other companions, I put up with his crap because I figured he and Hawke meant something to each other.

It was probably my character’s romance with Anders that led me to side with the Templars in the end after he went all whackjob on everyone and blew up the Chantry. My poor, disillusioned Hawke just couldn’t continue fighting for the mages when the champion of the cause and the love of her life was responsible for something that heinous. Justice/Vengeance-possessed or not, Hawke couldn’t let Anders get away with it. I was pretty pissed off too, considering how I never really even wanted to be stuck with Anders in the first place. I gave him a chance and he blew it, so he had to die. Obviously.

Of course, right after sticking that dagger in him I realized I just killed off my one and only healer. Yes, it made the fight after that and the final battle with the First Enchanter such a pain in the ass, but damn it all, I wasn’t about to go and revert back to a previous save just to spare Anders, so I stuck it out. The First Enchanter, who had resorted to blood magic to become an abomination in the end (even though I offered him a way out for the sake of my sister and everyone in Kirkwall) pretty much just me think I made the right choice as well. Mages becoming dangerous when cornered was the major argument from Templar supporters, and the actions of the First Enchanter just proved them right, if you asked me.

Two great things happened after the fight — 1) I still got to kill Knight-Commander Meredith, who was much too batty to be allowed to live, really, and 2) Bethany rejoined my party so I got my healer back! So even though the final fight against Meredith was way more complex, I also had a much, much easier time.

I was ambivalent about the concluding narrative. Even though I sided with the Templars, my ending wasn’t so very different from those who I saw sided with the mages — mages everywhere still took a stand, finding hope in the events of Kirkwall. And all the companions dispersed, except for the Champion’s love interest, of course. In my case, that was Anders…and I still got the “stayed by my side” line even though I killed him. Well, I guess they meant it in a figurative, haunt-me-for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of way…

h1

PAX East: SWTOR Taral V Flashpoint Demo Playthrough

March 15, 2011

This article is going to be a monster. It is organized into three parts — first I go through the preparation we had to do before the demo, then I talk about what our group did during our playthrough and our strategy for the boss fight, and finally, I talk about my opinions of the demo. If all this is TL;DR, feel free to just skip down to the third section of my post that summarizes my thoughts.

1. The preparation:

BioWare sure knows how to build up anticipation. On Sunday, the last day of PAX East, my husband and I spent more than three hours waiting in line at the Star War: The Old Republic booth to play the demo for the Taral V flashpoint…but it was worth it.

Right before it was our turn to step up to the stations, 12 of us were herded into a cordoned-off area and were told to get ourselves into groups of four. My husband and I had been chatting up these two friends who were waiting in line beside us, and had gotten to know that they were a tank and healer team. After watching some of the demos being played on the TV screens around us, I knew enough to know that I didn’t want to be the Trooper (anytime something bad happens, the crowds watching are always so brutal to the tank when they jeer) or the Smuggler (I’m nowhere near brave enough to tackle healing on a character I’ve never seen before, in a game I’ve never played). So really, fate had decided for us beforehand that we were going to team up with these guys.

Each team was then given an iPad by a Bioware employee, and asked to peruse the presentation on them about the Taral V flashpoint which included a brief rundown of the classes and their abilities. The presentation was also supposed to give us an idea of which role you wanted to play. Since our new friends had already claimed the Trooper Vanguard (tank) and Smuggler Scoundrel (healer) roles, that left the Jedi Consular Sage or the Jedi Knight Guardian. Since Sunday was the day I wanted to let my husband call the shots, I let him decide first. He chose the Consular, which I knew he would, as he does seem to have an affinity towards the ranged playstyle. That suited me just fine too, as I happen to love melee. And so that was how I took on the role of the Jedi Knight.

Next, we were let into an enclosed booth, where we got to sit down in really nice chairs (I know any seat would feel like heaven after that grueling wait, but they actually were really nice chairs). BioWare Product Marketing Manager Deborah Shin welcomed us and showed us a short video about five minutes long further explaining the flashpoint and focusing on each class and what they’re supposed to do. It wasn’t a strategy guide by any means; rather, it was informing us of the tactics each class is capable of, which could then lead to the formulation of multiple strategies.

We’ve seen many groups try many different things — some were successful, some were not. The boss fight method shown in the video of the Taral V Developer walkthrough is not the only way. In fact, during the hours waiting and watching, we saw many demo groups try just that and fail miserably. “Ping-ponging” aggro doesn’t really work so well when you’re four strangers playing without any form of effective communication. We were told that probably only 15 or 16 groups have managed to be successful in defeating the boss, working out to about 1 in 5. Later on, our booth helper told us it was probably lower than that, closer to only 1 in 7 groups that managed to succeed.

No matter what, our group just knew we wanted to nail this. We didn’t have a lot of time to talk between ourselves, but it was just barely enough to put together and agree upon the rudiments of a working strategy…

2. What we did:

After the presentation, we finally got to sit down at our demo stations. Ours went like this from left to right: Smuggler, Jedi Knight, Trooper, Jedi Consular. This later on turned out to be a pretty unfortunate set-up, but more on that later.

I sat myself down at the second machine, and quickly looked over my Jedi Knight abilities and tried to remember what I had read about them from the iPad presentation earlier. There was also a little card taped to my station that gave a little information. I was a level 32 Jedi Guardian who had a DPS role in this demo, but I was also heavily armored and specced in a way that I could cover some off-tanking duties as well. I saw by pressing “P” that I actually had a lot more abilities at my disposal, but BioWare had set it up so in this demo I was only supposed to utilize mainly the ones they had placed in my action bars.

They were arranged in a specific way — 5 of my main attack abilities were grouped up at the front of the top bar, for example. Then came a chunk near the left that made up my taunt abilities, another chunk that made up my focus-building abilities, then my buffs, recovery abilities, etc. I literally had seconds to familiarize myself with the set-up and gather my bearings before the demo started and we were playing in earnest.

First came a conversation with Jedi Master Oteg. Here, I finally got to see the multiplayer conversation system at work. Each player picks their answer from the dialogue wheel, and after everyone chooses, a random roll occurs and the highest one is the response that takes place. I could see in the lower left hand corner the numbers that were rolled. On the other side of our station was a group of onlookers watching our screen, and we could hear them keep chanting for us to pick the “evil” dialogue option. Well, we’d been waiting in line seeing people choose the “jerk” option in the demos all day! Just to annoy them, my husband kept picking the “good” option. And he also happened to win probably 80% of the random rolls so we got to witness his Jedi Consular’s answers almost every single time. I think my husband took pleasure in that, also when he called this system the “convo-loot” system.

So we’re off to the Imperial world of Taral V to rescue an imprisoned Jedi Master who is essential to the Republic war effort. The four of us made our way to the hangar bay and into the shuttle. We could see checkmarks appear above our heads as each player got ready. A short cutscene followed, showing our ship taking off and disappearing into the distant stars.

And then, we were in the jungle. Everyone buffed and filed in behind the Trooper. As the tank, we were going to let him lead the way.

Almost immediately, we saw our first hostile mobs. Close by, lightning struck, causing some brush fires as a Imperial ship landed in the distance, an unsettling sight. We engaged in combat, battling all manner of enemies from Imperial units like commandos and droids, to creatures like jungle beasts and lurkers as we made our way further down the path. Some mobs were stationary, like the Imperials standing on guard, but would charge you or attack as soon as you got in sight. Others like the beasts often ambushed us, popping up from the ground groups at a time to surround and converge on us.

I was a little hesitant at the beginning, not feeling very confident about my knowledge of my abilities, and unsure of the role I was to play in this group. Should I stick with DPS, or should I take the initiative and tank some mobs on my own since that was within my capabilities? Finally, I was just like, “Ah heck, no guts, no glory!” and charged in, taking on a more pro-active role, helping the tank whenever I could. I tried to always start off with my focus-building abilities, first hurling my lightsaber from afar (awesome!) before force leaping in to smash the enemy up close. We were always taking on groups, and while I found I was a good damage-dealer, I was also useful in sharing some of the damage with the Trooper while we were taking on big groups.

Usually, I let the tank take on a big mob while I ran around taking care of the weaker enemies. I noticed his friend playing the Smuggler was also helping us by getting into cover whenever he could, giving us defensive bonuses. My husband playing the Jedi Sage was vigilant in throwing out his crowd control abilities, and I was careful to avoid mobs that he had disabled. I had something like a Force Pull ability to taunt mobs off the two of them whenever they drew attention, and I also had an AoE taunt ability that I used once or twice during ambushes to quickly get them off our healer, while giving the tank time to engage.

We were here on Taral V to rescue a Jedi Master, but along the way there were also several optional objectives to complete, such as killing Imperial units and destroying research terminals. Our team did the latter whenever we could just to have the experience, but also to see the destruction it wreaked (the explosion that ensued often helped us damage whatever enemies we were fighting in the immediate area). Otherwise, our main goal was to get to the Imperial facility. Only half the flashpoint was playable for the demo, and we knew we weren’t going to be able to finish our bonus objectives. The minutes were also ticking by, and we were anxious to get a crack at the boss. We wanted as much time as we could, in case we needed more than one attempt.

Finally, we reached the facility. Our first order of business was to clear the mobs in the area. No harm in being too careful; we didn’t want to aggro any adds while fighting the boss.

The boss encounter is Captain Shivanek and his pet Ripper. Once Shivanek is engaged he will summon Ripper who bursts out beside him and charges the group. We’d already planned on me as the Jedi Guardian keeping the captain busy while the Trooper tanks the hulking beast. While we’d seen the developer walkthrough video and the way that group takes down Shivanek first and has the Trooper and Guardian share aggro for Ripper, we’d also witnessed countless groups that day fail to carry that method through. When the captain dies, Ripper enrages and does A LOT more damage, and we’d seen many tanks go down after that happens.

People forget that the group in the video most likely had had multiple attempts, and knew what they were doing. The players might even have had the ability to communicate between each other. The four of us sitting at the demo station did not really have that luxury. First of all, while all of us were sitting side-by-side in a row, the place was LOUD. There were tons of people everywhere surrounding the booth, and the noise was such that even to talk to the person sitting beside me, I had to shout myself hoarse to be heard. Add to that, we were also wearing headphones. Typing everything wasn’t going to work either. No, we had to come up with a way that didn’t require constant communication between me and the tank, or the tanks and the healer. Though we knew it was going to be a little tougher, we were also confident it could work.

Our strategy — to take them both down at the same time…together. Think the Romulo and Julianne fight in the World of Warcraft Karazhan raid instance.

So, it was up to me to initiate the encounter. I chucked my lightsaber at Captain Shivanek, and force leaped in to tank him. Ripper popped out, and the Trooper immediately fired on him to grab his attention. The Smuggler watched us both to keep us healed up, while my husband range-attacked both the captain and Ripper and kept an eye on their health bars to make sure they would go be going down at relatively the same rate.

Everything was going well…until the bosses were at about half health. That was when I saw my health bar faltering, and so did the Trooper’s. Our healer had been doing a wonderful job up until this point, so I knew something was going on. I looked to my left where he was sitting, and he turned to me and said (well, more like shouted) “I’m going to need back-up healing!” From there, even though we were sitting pretty close together, it was like a mini-game of broken telephone. I turned to the guy on my right, the tank, and shouted, “Tell the Sage we need back-up healing!” He then turned to my husband and shouted, “Back-up heals!”

Well, of course, by then it was a little too late. I found out afterward from the guy playing the Smuggler that he’d realized he had been using his “big” heals too generously. The Scoundrel’s strengths appeared to be his heals-over-time, and the other heals ate up his energy much too quickly. The Sage’s support didn’t come quick enough, and our Trooper went down.

At this point, I thought we were lost. No group I saw had ever lost the tank and not wiped. But those who were still alive fought desperately on anyway.

I continued smashing at Captain Shivanek, even as I was down to less than 50% health. I couldn’t see what was going on behind me, but I could assume Ripper was probably pummeling our Consular and Smuggler into dust. But…even after half a minute, everyone was still alive. I saw that Shivanek was down to about 15% health, and seeing as I still had some life in me, I pounded at him as hard as I could with my most damaging abilities. By some miracle, I survived when the captain finally died, and I quickly turned around to see if I could take Ripper, knowing he was now enraged and I was probably going to live for about two more seconds before he finished me off.

But when I turned around, Ripper was…dead? He was lying on the ground in front of the Jedi Sage. Later, my husband told me he had been “tanking” Ripper, and when Ripper died he had immediately turned around to see if he could help me with Shivanek only to see him dead on the ground in front of me as well. The two bosses must have gone down at exactly or almost exactly the same time.

You have to understand, this encounter itself wasn’t a very complicated fight, but our circumstances made it extremely so. We couldn’t very well talk to each other easily. The tank was dead and running back, so he had no idea what was happening with the fight. The healer couldn’t see target-of-target because the interface wasn’t set up for it in this particular demo, so he didn’t know what was going on with the bosses either. I was concentrating on Shivanek so I only had half the story, while my husband was focusing on Ripper so he had the other half. When we found both bosses dead, we all looked around at each other with totally perplexed looks and asked, “Did we win?” It wasn’t until our booth assistant beside us shouted “You guys did it!” that we finally cheered and started patting each other on the back.

Yes, we lost our tank. But now we knew our strategy was viable, if the Smuggler had conserved his energy a little and if the Sage had jumped in with back-up healing a little sooner. We were so happy to have killed the boss, which according to our booth assistant was what only a few groups she’d seen had managed to do.

After the Trooper ran back, we still had a little time until our 45 minutes were up, so we went around killing the mobs we missed. We also played around with the GUI and “/danced” our victory dance.

Playing around with the emotes was also when I typed in “/threaten”, making the text pop us as “You threaten everyone with an omnious stare” or something like that. “Omnious?” I pointed it out to the booth assistant and asked if they knew about that typo. Well, that would be my one itty-bitty contribution to the feedback process!

 

3. What I thought:

Okay, there will be people who will hate Taral V and SWTOR flashpoints in general just as there will be those who will absolutely adore it, and everything in between. I happen to be one of those people who enjoyed myself immensely, and I’ll say why.

First of all, if you’ve read some of my comments on group combat on this blog before, you’ll know that I am not necessarily anti-MMO holy trinity, but what I would prefer to see in the future is a more dynamic kind of MMO trinity in our instance encounters. I had suspected we would see this in SWTOR flashpoints, and after playing the Taral V demo, I can definitely say I saw some of this being realized.

Being in a four-person team, I felt our tasks were more evenly spread out. In other words, being in a smaller group than what we were used to, each of us felt like we had more of an obligation to “share the load”. In fact, the only person on the team that I felt was more “pigeonholed” than any of the others was the Trooper, whose tanking responsibilities remained pretty much necessary and static throughout the entire encounter. Even so, he was doing more damage than I would have expected from a tanking character. Me, I was either off-tanking or helping the others do DPS. The Scoundrel, our healer, took part in actively CCing and doing damage especially in our fight through the jungle.

And my husband the Consular…well, he stole the show. He was a ranged-damage dealer, but was also shocked to see himself do decent damage with his lightsaber as well. Not great damage — but it wasn’t as pathetic as you would expect from, say, a Mage swinging his staff. So he delighted in the fact he wasn’t completely helpless if any loose mobs got in his face. He also did plenty of crowd control, disabling enemies with a sort of force vortex. And of course, the Consular also has some healing abilities. In fact, I only survived our chaotic boss fight thanks to his heals at the end, even though they were small and I assume not as effective as the Scoundrel’s. He even tanked Ripper for about 20 seconds. When that happened, my husband told me he almost fell off his chair. The whole time, he’d thought of himself as playing a “clothie”, and as soon as Ripper headed for him after the Trooper went down, he thought he was a goner. He almost was, but simply by HoT-ing up himself and DoT-ing up Ripper, he was able to barely keep himself alive to finish the encounter.

I’m thinking the Consular will probably be one of the more interesting classes to play, in terms of mechanics and abilities.

I normally want to keep all comparisons of WoW separate from my discussions of other games, but I was reading a particular thread on the SWTOR forums last night, and I just can’t resist. Is having instances in your game like WoW? Is being able to tank, damage or heal as a group like WoW? Is having abilities you use on your action bar, being able to obtain and roll for loot, having health bars and mini-maps, fighting mobs and bosses etc. etc. etc. just like WoW? Yes, along with numerous other MMOs and even some RPGs out there, but make no mistake — While I think it’s absolutely right to say the mechanics resemble WoW, on the other hand  to say SWTOR flashpoints look “just like WoW” is also seeing only the similarities and ignoring a whole slew of differences. I for one thought that playstyle felt distinctively different.

Everything was fast-paced. Our group did not sit around before every single pull to mark and discuss who’s going to CC what. Nor did we go rushing in to AoE everything into oblivion. Every decision had to be specific, and made in a split second. Like I said, we had more of an obligation to share the load, watch out for each other to see where the gaps were in our tactics, and if you were able to, you filled them in as best you could. I flowed from one task to another — sometimes this meant switching over from damaging one mob to damaging the next, other times it meant going from damaging to off-tanking and vice versa. The only real pauses were after fights, where we all took a few moments to reload, regenerate or recover.

BioWare has made each class useful and capable of handling many different situations, something Blizzard finally figured out when they gave each class and spec viable roles in group play and things like effective CC abilities. I wouldn’t go as far as to call SWTOR classes hybrids; instead, I’d say each class has ample utility. For example, I think when you know you have a responsibility in the group beyond simply doing as much damage as you can, you are more likely to look around and ask yourself, “What does this situation require?” and “Can I provide that support?” If the answer is yes, you go ahead and you do it. You’re not worrying about whether or not you can top the damage meters today so your group won’t decide your DPS is too low and exclude you tomorrow; you are thinking for the good of the team and not just of yourself.

Not surprisingly, I felt a stronger sense of cooperation between my group members and myself while playing this demo than I’ve ever felt in an instance in ages. I really, really liked that. In supporting my team and knowing that they were in turn supporting me and each other, and in defeating our enemies this way and pressing ahead, I actually started to understand the feeling of being…heroic. I have to wonder how the raids in this game are going to be like. Apparently, being a hero isn’t going to be about the personal glory — it’s going to be knowing that in pulling a loose mob off your friend, or by tossing out that last minute heal, you just saved the day.

In terms of the combat and gameplay, it goes without saying that it was smooth as butter. BioWare has gotten the combat down as well as making the environment feel alive, as seen with the crashing ships and burning fires. They’ve also given us plenty to do in the instance, like optional and side quests. I think if you enjoy doing group content, you will probably like these flashpoints. And if you’re concerned that SWTOR will be too much of a “single-player game”, do something like this and hopefully it will assuage your fears.

Really, the major negatives of my experience didn’t come from within, it came from without. The throngs of people around and the small crowd in line watching and commenting on our playthrough being shown on the TV screen in front of us made for a huge distraction, and my lack of experience with the character didn’t help, and neither did our time limit, forcing us to learn our abilities as quickly as possible. It was a real baptism by fire, to say the least. I wish I could have heard more of the music in the game, but the exhibition hall was so effing loud that I couldn’t really catch much of it. Kinda made me wonder why they would provide us with such upscale clunky gaming mice, but not give us better quality headphones.

I did have issues with the user interface. It was nice and neat, and made your screen look clean, but one of the hardest things to get used to was knowing to watch your own health decrease this way <—, while watching your enemy target’s health decrease towards that way —>. However, it’s possible that these little things can be changed through interface options in the settings, along with stuff like seeing target-of-target, so I’m not too concerned. The UI itself looked pretty comprehensive, displaying all the information you’ll need to know about yourself and everything around you in your environment.

The only other couple of things I want to nitpick are small, possibly even trivial. The combat, as I’ve mentioned, was very fast-paced. Perhaps a little too fast. Speaking of which, I was pretty excited to be playing the Jedi Knight, hoping to observe some cool lightsaber forms as I was fighting, but the motions simply zipped by in a blur. Or maybe it just felt that way. I admit I was a little frazzled and my mind was overworked, trying to deal with all the stimuli bombarding me from all directions in-game as well as out of the game. The other thing is that when you die, you spawn at the closest med-station, which is at the beginning of the flashpoint. This is pretty standard procedure, but in most other games you are confined to a dungeon or a small area, not running like a mile through the jungle just to get back to the first boss, which is what our Trooper had to do. It felt really, really long. I wonder if they will put in checkpoints in the final product.

So, was waiting hours and hours worth it? Hell yeah it was. You might wonder why BioWare didn’t just decrease the amount of time players are allowed at each station, cut down a 45-minute demo to say, 15 minutes in order to get more people through. God knows I asked myself the same thing enough times while I was waiting impatiently in line. But after playing it, I have to admit, any less time would not have done the flashpoint demo justice. I wouldn’t have been able to utilize my class to its full potential, learn the synergies between myself and others, get immersed in the story, or make all my other observations otherwise.

In closing, after playing the demo, I had myself a thought. I love MMOs, I love BioWare, I love Star Wars. I am totally going to buy this game. In the end, however, I figure BioWare probably isn’t targeting players like me — that is, gamers who have a game blog, who spend time viewing gaming discussions, following the news day-by-day, picking apart everything that comes out, talking about specific mechanics in online communities with other gamers, etc. No, BioWare has alluded to this many times before — they want to make a fun game to appeal to a wide audience, from the MMO veteran to the beginner online gamer.

Most gamers are your average player simply looking for a good time in an MMO. Well, my husband’s like that. He doesn’t follow gaming, and is pretty much happy as long as he’s playing whatever I’m playing. He doesn’t ask for much — only that he can play a game that works, something that’s fun and has a well filled-out world, something that gives him a challenge and plenty enough cool stuff to do. Well, if you’ve actually made it through this monster of a post to get to this point, you know my thoughts. Mr. MMOGC, on the other hand, is a lot more succinct. His first words immediately after playing the demo as he took off his headphones and got up from his seat? They were, “That was AWESOME.” Take that as you will.

h1

PAX East: My SWTOR Bounty Hunter Origins Demo Playthrough

March 14, 2011

What I did:

Let me say it was a real tough choice when it came down to deciding which class to play. With the Jedi homeworld of Tython premiering at PAX East, every class was available. And they all look so good. Obviously, there were good reasons to play the Jedi Knight or Consular. But my first love is the Bounty Hunter, the class I plan to make as my main at release. And yet, I wondered if I should be choosing it to demo as it would be spoiling some of the quest content for myself.

In the end, a helpful fan next to me in line suggested that I go with the Bounty Hunter, but only do a few quests and spend the rest of the time sightseeing, fighting, experimenting with the mechanics, and overall just exploring to get a good feel of the starting world. This way I’ll get to experience my favorite class, get to know it a little, but also keep the spoilerific moments to a minimum. So that is exactly what I did.

There were four stations set up for the origin demo — two Empire, two Republic. All the characters were premade already, which is par for the course for something with a focus like this. So I don’t know anything about the character creation process, though I did notice after I selected the Bounty Hunter and entered the game world that my character was a large heavyset human male with slightly Asian features and something that looked like a cybernetic “patch” on his jaw. A good sign for character customization.

There was no cinematic or anything (for now, anyway), just a loading screen with information about the Bounty Hunter. Once I finished reading, I clicked the mouse, and I was in.

The beginning was almost exactly the same as what we saw in the developer walkthrough video from a while back, which follows the Bounty Hunter character as he appears on Hutta trying to win entry into the Great Hunt. I met Mako, Braden and Jory, and picked up my first quest. I’m usually the paragon or the “nice” guy when I play Bioware games, but since this was just a demo I turned up my jerk-o-meter and just acted like an ass, insulting my new-found friends to see what would happen. Oh man, some of the “evil” dialogue is just too funny.

Next, I exited the building and started exploring. I shot at enemies, played with my abilities, and ran around the map to look at everything around me. I experimented with emotes, pored over my inventory window and character sheet, switched around my equipment. I did a few more random quests, and got a few levels, and soon after that, my thirty minutes were up.

What I thought:

Let me just get the “constructive criticism” out of the way first, so I can end on a good note. I use that term instead of “negatives” because these aren’t exactly gripes, per se. But one of the first things I noticed was that I did not feel as “heroic” as BioWare had said they wanted players to feel right off the bat. Granted, I’m a Bounty Hunter whose only loyalty is to myself and credits so I’m not exactly the poster child for the perfect hero and the quests reflect that, but even the combat felt a little subdued. I had two attack abilities on the same cooldown — one that was like a rapid blaster shot and another that was like a missile launcher.

Yes, I was able to take on two, three mobs at once, but there were no special mechanics, no tricks up their sleeve. For all intents and purposes, I may as well have been fighting one mob split into three. Combat didn’t particularly feel all that different from any of the other MMOs I’ve played before; I felt no more powerful or impressive. However, this was just my observation, and I was not disappointed by any means. I think this is what most players would expect from an introductory area of a new game in any case, and I have no doubt the quests and combat will become more interesting as you get farther along. In fact, things started getting better the moment I received my flamethrower from my trainer, adding a very cool looking damage-over-time ability to my repertoire.

Another thing I observed as I was running around and exploring — exiting and entering the buildings from one instanced area to another wasn’t as seamless as I expected. Every once in a while I would get a noticeable “jump” on the screen, where the screen freezes for a split fraction of a second as I assume the instance loads. Other than that, the transition was generally smooth and did not affect gameplay at all. I was, however, playing by myself. I wonder what would happen at launch when there’s a ton more other people around and a lot more data to load.

Now for the good stuff — and there’s a lot of it. The most impressive thing is the voiceover. They’re not kidding — the VO makes the game, I think. I was originally concerned with BioWare’s huge investment in their fully-voiced MMO, wondering if all that effort will be worth it or if they’re overestimating the patience and attention span of their playerbase who would rather read the captions and skip over the spoken dialogue. Well, in the end I think if you’re an RPG fan, it will draw you in right away. Even if you’re not, I think you’ll find yourself immersed if you even give it half a chance.

Personally, I thought I would feel bogged down by the amount of back-and-forth dialogue after a while once the novelty of it wore off, but to my surprise, I didn’t at all. The script was so well-written and voice-acted so superbly, I was immediately sucked into the conversation and everything around me just faded into the background. It didn’t drag at all, and my 30 minutes simply flew by. When it was time to stop, I couldn’t believe it had been that long.

I was also very impressed with Hutta. I’d always thought that planet was sort of nasty — grungy, smoggy, yellow and just overall kinda gross. But even here there is beauty. The first thing I did when I exited the building into the world was look up. There was the outline of a giant moon or something in the sky that just made me go, “Whoa.” I also ran around some more, seeing how far I can go. I stopped when I opened up the map and saw how big the starting area was and realized I wasn’t going to have enough time to do all the exploring I wanted.

Gameplay was also smooth as hell. Combat and other movements were natural and fluid as water. That was pretty amazing.

Of course, the selling point of SWTOR is the story. Obviously, 30 minutes is nowhere near enough time to be able to experience all its intricacies, but in that time, I did get a taste. Like I said, I was immersed almost immediately, and was hanging off every word of the dialogue. Even though the objectives of the few introductory quests I was tasked to do were rather mundane and fairly typical of your standard MMO fare, the story and reasoning behind them made up for it.

In other words, I didn’t feel like I had to do a quest because I just wanted to gain experience or rewards, I felt like like I wanted to do the quest for the quest itself. I wanted to know what will happen, to follow the events through to their conclusion. In most games I’ve played in the past, quests have felt separate or removed from the rest of the game, as in I could get in, get out and never have to think about the quest ever again after it’s completion. During my time with the demo on the other hand, the quests I did felt like individual parts of a larger whole, as in I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my decisions at level 3 will come come back to haunt me again at level 30. In fact, I think I’d read or heard somewhere that that’s exactly what happens. I really do get the feeling my choices will matter, and I didn’t even have to get very far in my playthrough to reach a point where I was faced with a major decision that I know will alter my future.

Well, I’d originally wanted to do my write-ups for the Bounty Hunter origins demo and my playthrough of the Taral V flashpoint together at the same time, but this ended up being longer than I thought. Taral V will have to be my next update.

h1

STO: Cutting The Cord

March 7, 2011

So ends Star Trek Online’s Cloaked Intentions series with the feature episode “Cutting the Cord” which premiered Saturday. While it might not have been as epic as last week’s episode (but then, what is?) it was still a finale worthy of the words “kick-ass”.

One other thing: I managed to rope my husband into doing the FEs again with me last weekend. He’d lost interest in the game earlier this year and trying to get him back into it was like pulling teeth. The man is not easily impressed and usually over-critical when it comes to the handling of his precious Star Trek. I was a little wary of what he might think as we caught up with the episodes of this series, but I needn’t have worried — Mr. MMOGC had nothing but good things to say about the experience, and days after he is still praising “Coliseum”. I just wanted to mention this before my review as a testament to the good work Cryptic and the STO team has done.

Note: Spoilers in the text and screenshots

Okay, so Starfleet has finally clued in on to the severity of the situation. But while Command is open to helping Obisek and his people fight for freedom against Hakeev, they wish to do it discreetly. First, they’ll need more information on the Romulan’s relationship with the Iconians before they proceed, and someone needs to get in there and nab Hakeev. Guess who gets the privilege!

Throughout this whole mission, I just thought of myself as the leader of a strike team. The most disorganized, unprepared and incompetent strike team in the history of the Federation, perhaps, but my objectives were clear as day — infiltrate the Tal Shiar base on Brea, beam down and clear it out, take Hakeev alive for questioning. Never mind that we were detected in orbit as soon as we dropped out of warp. Never mind that our transporter went wonky and beamed my away team into different places. Never mind someone forgot to tell Starfleet Command that T’Androma doesn’t do alive. OOPS!

The yellow light goes well with my pasty green complexion!

Of course, all thoughts of the mission left my head as soon as we reached the surface of the planet. For a couple minutes, all I did was gawk and take screenshots while my poor husband waited patiently for me to get pictures from all the interesting angles. I wish I could make panoramic shots of this gorgeous tableau. Despite the harsh yellow light reminiscent of smog in a pollution-choked city, the artwork was stunning. It’s nice to see something more than just squat angular structures on a flat desert ground.

And the urban setting made this map a lively little battleground. The novelty of fighting above ground is already something. I’m so used to seeing a vast, sprawling empty piece of land in this game that it was a real thrill to be traversing a map that was built up “vertically”. Multi-level maps are different and good. It also made for some really cool mischief.

Plasma grenade incoming! Oops, that would have been a good idea...if most of those guys weren't on my own side.

Another reason why this map was such a great battleground — all the buildings and balconies and catwalks make for a pretty formidable maze. Of course, you can simply follow the fighting like we did and not get lost, but Cryptic has thought of everything and included a “Virtual Guide Path” system players can activate in case they need to know which way to go for the next objective.

You don’t really need these blue lines to show you where to go since the catwalks are straight and generally do not fork, but I thought I’d activate it and take a couple screenshot to illustrate to my readers just the sheer scope of this “multi-levelness”. Check it out:

Follow the shiny blue line! Follow the shiny blue line!

Follow, follow, follow, follow...

Impressive.

The Tal Shiar fighters appear to be out in full force! Apparently, they have Spider-Men among them, as they are literally raining down on me from the rooftops above. It is a bloody warzone out here, in this pitched battle between Hakeev’s people and my own. But still…where is Hakeev himself? Ah, figures the little craven has gone and hidden himself behind one of his forcefields.

As if I didn’t have enough problems already, my officers inform me that an Iconion transmitter has crippled our ship’s systems with a virus. What the? Whose turn was it to update the McAfee? Ugh, if I manage to live through this, I promise there will be demotions for all.

AHA! That must be Hakeev. Who else would have their arms crossed so arrogantly like that?

Obisek himself shows up for the final showdown against Hakeev. Hey, not that I’m ungrateful for the extra support, Obi, but now that there are a gazillion witnesses I’m actually going to have to attempt to take Hakeev alive. But of course, I’m sure as a last act to spite me, he dies anyway. Such is T’Andy’s life.

Luckily, we find an encrypted PADD on Hakeev that references the location of an Iconian gateway not too far from us. It had to be obliterated, of course.

Gorgeous.

Time for a Trek lore break! If I recall correctly, the Iconians were an ancient civilization that was wiped out long ago. According to Memory Alpha, ancient texts refered to them as the “Demons of Air and Darkness”, and their advanced gateway technology was what enabled them to appear at will on far-flung planets without the use of any starships.

Ooh, are we going encounter these mysterious “demons”? Cryptic has done such a good job building up these guys in the last few episodes. I find myself actually squirming in my seat with anticipation as we beam back out to space…

That is one sick ship. It breaks my heart to pummel it.

…TO A FULL OUT ROMULAN SPACE BATTLE! And will you believe it, the Empress Sela herself graces us with her presence, showing up in her mighty warship the Leahval. Sorry, your royal worshipfulness, but there’s only room for one crazy bitch in this galaxy and T’Andy’s not about to be outdone!

What. A. Climax. And what a twist! A weird looking asteroid nearby turns out to be an Iconian gateway. Chills ran up my arms as I watched as the Leahval was drawn into the mysterious portal. Was Empress Sela going willingly? Or was this development as much a surprise to her as it was to me? Oh boy, good show, Cryptic, good show. I am absolutely delighted.

Okay, wow. That's put me off joy riding through any donut asteroids ever again.

The strength of “Cutting the Cord” was in its combat, which I felt was the main focus for this episode. Unlike some of the previous installments in this series, there wasn’t much problem solving and opportunities for diplomacy, which isn’t necessarily a criticism, just an observation. We do need some balance and variety of objectives between the FEs, after all. When all is said and done, this mission was relatively straightforward.

The story, however, was something different entirely. I liked the plot twists, and I appreciate how STO is attempting to move the Star Trek story forward.  The Cloaked Intentions arc didn’t simply feel like a series of missions…it felt like a book I wanted to read, if you know what I mean. It had elements from the different Star Trek shows and a sense of cohesiveness that made it very memorable.

And we made a new friend, aww. Somehow, I think I knew we were going to get a Reman bridge officer as a reward. It must have hit me the moment we started working with Slamek from last week’s “Coliseum” episode, even though he did turn out to be a dirty, stinking traitor. You also get a quest to talk to Obisek upon completion of the FE, where he wraps up the story for you nicely and even gifts you with a new floor trophy. How thoughtful! I love a young man with manners. I am also glad to have been his ally, because when he’s not messing around with deadly thalaron weapons he can be a pretty decent and upstanding guy.

A proud friend of the Horta!

It is not immediately obvious which trophy it is, but it turns out to be the one listed as “No Kill I”. Kind of an odd choice for a trophy, in my opinion. I mean, considering the vast epicness of this arc and the fact that the encounter with the horta was just a small bit part in one of the episodes. Personally, I would have expected a theme to do with aiding the Remans, since it’s also supposed to be a gift directly from Obisek. But that’s just me.

Thank you, STO team, for bringing us this thrilling conclusion. I await the next series with eager anticipation.

h1

STO: Into The Coliseum

February 28, 2011

Out of my way, fool.

Star Trek fans, be sure to have an extra pair of underwear close at hand because the latest Star Trek Online feature episode is nothing short of nerdgasm-inducing. And fans of the Original Series, you might want to have two pairs handy.

Time to take a break from all the Rift posts with my review of “Coliseum.” And what can I say? Wow. Just, wow. I have a lot to talk about, but the hard part is figuring out how to do it without coming across like a raving fangirl. Fact is, it is not in my nature to squee and fawn unless something is very, very good and extremely well done — which I think applies to this particular FE. I’m going to echo what Tipa has already stated in her write-up — this episode is truly epic.

Note: Spoilers in the text and screenshots.

Surprise, surprise — this latest mission does not start at Admiral T’Nae. Instead, it is Obisek’s scarred visage that pops up on your screen, asking for help, no less. The nerve! Seems one of his ships carrying a load of thalaron weapons through the Nopada system has disappeared. His only bargaining chip was simply, “If you didn’t like the idea of thalaron weapons in the hands of a loonybin like me, you would like them much less in the hands of an even bigger loonybin like Hakeev now, wouldn’t you?”

ARRGH!!! This is why you don’t let crazy ass Remans run free to do as they please! I should have attempted to arrest him when I had the chance, especially since the decision to do so or not to do so turned out to make no effing difference in the end.

Skip ahead to the Nopada system because I’m a tool and I’ve agreed to help Obisek find his missing ship. There, I find nothing but derelict hulks and a mysterious satellite. And whaddya know, it’s a trap! At this point, I was going through the motions, thinking this was just gonna be another one of those missions where I’ll have to run around activating glowy consoles and pressing buttons until I find a way to escape.

Well, I discovered it was that and more. Math? MATH, CRYPTIC?! Why do you hate me? But thanks to my overbearing mother and her forcing me to go through five years of Kumon in my youth, however, I was set, calculators and pencils be damned. After you work out which number corresponds to each letter, all it takes is to go through A, B, C, and D sliding the numbers left or right until they show the correct value.

After that, make sure you explore every nook and cranny of the small facility. You’ll need to somehow set the satellite to expand its scanners far enough to pick up the derelict hulk, using it to redirect focus away from your ship, and then you’ll need to dial down the power settings to allow yourself to get away. The information takes a bit of digesting, but the key is to know where all your consoles are to do your fiddling, so be sure to note them on your map.

So by now I admit I was feeling a little indifferent, expecting myself to beam back to my ship and be ambushed with a space fight or something. I thought, “Typical.”

Instead, BAM! I found myself behind bars in the next scene. I did not see that one coming. Not sure if it was intended, but way to go Cryptic for luring me into a false sense of impassivity. This was probably the biggest twist I have ever experienced in an FE, and I love it!

And what made it even better, was when the doors opened, and I realized…I get to fight? Oh my God, I get to fight! No pressing any buttons, no scanning any objects, no running around trying to be diplomatic. I. GET. TO. KILL. STUFF. Now THIS is T’Androma’s kind of mission! Just your good old-fashioned, straightforward gladiatorial skirmish with fantastical creatures in an open coliseum.

Ladies and gentlemen, choose your weapons. Take ‘em all if you want, but it’s the Lirpa for me. As if I would choose anything else.

As a proud owner of a little Sehlat cub of my own, I really should be feeling bad about this. But that's the way of the arena! Sorry Fluffy!

And all the while, I’m going dun-dun-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DUN-dun-dun-DUN-DUN! in time to the music. Because everyone knows, of course, that the Amok Time song is the greatest fight music EVER. I laughed, because it seems that after almost a year, my wishes were finally answered. That was before I got into Star Trek. Sigh, how utterly ignorant and sad I was then.

Are you enjoying yourself? When do you think we'll get to go again?

The fun was over way too soon. Before long, T’Andy was herded back into her cage, where she had the opportunity to talk to the Reman slave who fought beside her the coliseum. “I tire of this life,” he moaned. “I can’t go on much longer.” “The lights are too damn bright.” Whine whine whine, bitch bitch bitch. It took every ounce of self control not to bite this guy’s head off and call him names, insult his manhood or imply he’s a psychopath. Seriously, Slamek, the joys of the arena are wasted on you and blubbering wussies like you.

But no, T’Andy had to  be diplomatic to get through this. Guess you can’t always have it all.

With much reluctance, T’Andy finally agreed to escape with him. At this point, I thought Cryptic would throw in a few objectives related to subterfuge or evasion. Surely, after all that fighting, they’ll make us sneak around some.

I could not have been more wrong, and boy am I glad for that:

Deworming.

Beating the Aehallh Worm in the coliseum shouldn’t be too difficult. If you find you are getting low on health, there are regenerative spores around the place you can “activate” to heal yourself. Run around to avoid the corrosive spit, beat down the tentacles, activate the turret system, simple as that. Letting you free the other prisoners to help you fight was also a welcome touch; I thought it added nicely to the frantic atmosphere.

By now, it feels like I’ve been playing this mission for a long time, and certainly it has already been twice as long as some of the previous FEs in the past. But it ain’t over yet! T’Andy and Slamek may have escaped their prison, but they still have to escape the desert. I was surprised there was still more to the story, but this is the most fun I’ve ever had in any STO mission, period, so I wasn’t complaining in the least.

Of course, it wasn’t enough just to be whiny and annoying, Slamek had to be an incompetent burden too. Wounded by the worm in the arena and poisoned by its venom, my Reman companion wasn’t going to make it unless he received immediate medical attention. If it were up to T’Andy, she would have let him die, but Starfleet has a pesky tendency to find out about these things, and if her churlish ways ever got back to the Admiral she would have my Vulcan ass on a silver platter.

Scorpions overhead!

The landscape, however, was absolutely breathtaking. As I gathered up the herbs for Slamek’s injuries while dodging the ranging Scorpions overhead, I couldn’t help but admire the desert scenery in the beautiful light of the silver moon. I don’t think I’ve seen anything else like this in STO. The environment was simply gorgeous. And huge. Thank God in one of the game’s previous updates they gave us a longer duration sprint.

Okay, now I have to spend the night with Slamek? Are you seriously saddling me with this pathetic creature, Cryptic? It’s like being haunted by a ghoul. Will the torture never end?!

Curse you, Slamek! Your fugly presence is totally ruining my glamour shoot!

Sigh. Just don’t get fresh with me, okay, Slamek? Or I swear, my boyfriend will come and nerve pinch you.

Here, T’Andy’s tactical training background required her to collect wood for a fire. Play with other classes in the group to collect all the accolades! Afterward, I thought surely the night in the cave must mean this episode was coming to an end…but there was still one more scene. Somewhere deep down I was starting to think this was getting a little ridiculous, but then I saw the marvelous view of the crashed Reman ship and promptly told that part of me to shut up. Again, the graphics and the design of the tableau was of a caliber I have not seen before in STO.

She's seen better days...

Just a few more objectives requiring me to send my signal to my ship, and T’Andy was almost home free. But then BAM! cutscene again. I was laughing out loud by the end, because I was having all these nasty thoughts about Slamek the whole time…and in the end it turned out I was right not to trust him. Traitorous bastard. Now that one I actually did see coming.

Why he went through all that just to sell me out though, I still have no idea. But the look on Hakeev’s face when I made my last minute getaway was funny enough to make me set aside all my questions. Silly villains. Y’all need to take a page from T’Andy’s book — shoot first, talk later.

Dammit. I knew I should have let the worms eat you out there, Slamek.

Days after playing this episode, I am still geeking out over it. My only concern about it is the fact it makes the rest of the game look less good, if that makes any sense. No wonder they are planning on going back to revamp past missions; I feel the chasm of difference between the old content and the new would be too great otherwise. Not only do I feel “Coliseum” is the best episode so far in the arc, I’d probably go as far as to say this was the best FE released to date. Hell, best mission the the game, even. Bar none.

This is now my favorite episode, and I have to say playing it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in STO. And it’s not just because I got to wreak all kinds of destruction in my wake. This episode must have been a massive undertaking — to write, to direct, to produce. It had everything, from the engaging script to the cinematic cutscenes with dramatic camera angles (especially with Hakeev at the end). Beautiful environments and music appropriate to the atmosphere. Extraordinary creatures, big and small. Lots of things that have never been seen before. There was also humor, suspense, excitement. Combat, problem solving, diplomacy. The whole mission was like a buffet table generously laid out by Cryptic, encouraging you to sample the best bits of everything.

Finally, in “Colisium”, I also see a labor of love, a devotion to Star Trek and a clear commitment to its fans to bring us the Trek elements we know and love. I’ve glimpsed this in other parts of STO, but here in this particular episode, it really shines.

Seriously, whoever came up with the idea for this mission deserves a raise. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next Saturday. It’s the series finale!

h1

LFG Death Star, Must Have Fast Ship

February 4, 2011

LF2M then G2G

Today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic update is a dev blog about Flashpoints which I think would have been much better off and more informative bundled with last week’s update, but it is still no less full of win.

From World Designer Jesse Sky, a Flashpoint in a nutshell:

The Death Star was a Flashpoint. Luke and Obi-wan spent a few minutes LFG in the Mos Eisley Cantina where they enlisted the aid of Han Solo and Chewbacca. Together, they infiltrated a moon-sized battle station to rescue Princess Leia.

They had a plan: rescue the princess, deactivate the tractor beam, and escape in the Millennium Falcon. Of course, things didn’t go quite as planned. They had to deal with a legion of Stormtroopers and a dianoga in the garbage compactor. Before they could escape, Obi-Wan was killed in a confrontation with Vader. Maybe next time you won’t split the party, Kenobi.

I love the analogy! It’s also good to see devs with a sense of humor, and by the way, how awesome it must be to have “World Designer” as your job title. I would go around at dinner parties telling everybody.

However funny it may be, I think the example from the movie does do a good job of illustrating Bioware’s vision for Flashpoints. Sometimes, even a big damn hero needs a little bit of help for those missions one can’t handle alone. Each will comprise of a string of objectives, all centered around a narrative. There will be a purpose to all of it, as like Jesse Sky pointed out, Luke et al. didn’t just go charging in through the blast doors aimlessly shooting at every Imperial in sight.

At the same time, he assures us that not every mission will be linear. The decisions that a group makes can change the outcome of the Flashpoint, affecting the course of the experience or opening up new possibilities for your character. Imagine if Han Solo had been like, “Screw the princess, my ass is staying right here!” when Luke beseeches him to save her. Things would have turned out a lot differently, and it makes you appreciate all the more that deep down our favorite smuggler is a chivalrous romantic at heart, even if he was in it for the money at the time.

Here’s another quote from the blog that I pounced on right away:

As much as possible, we try to move you between large, open spaces and smaller, claustrophobic spaces. Every now and then we throw in something crazy. We know we’ve done our job right when the artists react with a mixture of enthusiasm and annoyance.

That last bit again gave me a little chuckle, but I also like the idea of varying the environment within a Flashpoint. “Claustrophobic” is an interesting choice of words, but also accurate, I think, for how I’ve often felt in instances that confine you to one environment, or even just one room (Violet Hold, I’m looking at you). I predict having some visual diversity definitely will help in “opening up” the Flashpoint, making it less painfully obvious that you are in fact confined in a self-contained instance.

One thing I have been wary about when it comes to Flashpoints is the combat, and I have to say I remain so even with what has been said in this dev blog. I’m all for finding alternatives to the concept of “the MMO trinity,” but until a viable solution presents itself, I’m willing to settle for a more dynamic sort of trinity. I don’t mind having to take on a main role in an encounter, but I would like other skills that make me useful beyond simply being pigeonholed as a meat shield, nuker or healbot.

For example, one thing I loved about playing a feral druid in World of Warcraft was my ability to shift into different forms — DPSing as a cat when it was required, transforming to off-tank as a bear to save a clothie being pummeled by a loose mob, quickly throwing heals-over-time on the main tank to keep him up while I battle-rez the healer who had gotten herself killed — all in a single fight. Encounters like that require split-second decisions and the utilization of a player’s full repertoire of abilities, which is what I’m ideally looking for, though I admit this might be too much to expect from any game. However, I have to say that some of the combat I’ve seen in SWTOR group play footage makes me think that Bioware may be attempting this. I’m a bit dismayed that the little blurb from Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller did not offer much more in terms of information about that, but I guess that’s a dev blog for another day.

In any case, unique AI behavior and scenarios making combat in Flashpoints different than combat in the open world should be enough to bring about a sense of unpredictability and the excitement that goes along with it. I also liked that Zoeller’s example illustrated how the environment can play a part in creating that experience.

At the end of the day, I liked this quote most of all:

At the end of a Flashpoint, you’ll have more than just shiny new items – you’ll have developed your character. You’ll have the satisfaction of righting wrongs (or wronging rights). And to top it off, you’ll have learned something about your friends (“You seem more evil today. Are you evil?”).

Evil? Who, me? Ha ha, I’m starting to really like this Jesse Sky guy. But I think right there, that’s Bioware’s mission statement. You’re here to develop your character’s story and have fun with it, not play a “glorified slot machine” or crunch numbers all day (though no matter what, there’s just no stopping some people). Here’s hoping that works out for SWTOR, we’ll just have to see.

Finally, Sky’s comment about playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and imagining how cool it would be to join forces with his roommate to take it on together also made me smile because that thought absolutely crossed my mind when I played that game as well. Did it for you?

h1

Some Love For The Republic

August 13, 2010

A heavy update from Bioware today. First, the entry for the Jedi Knight, a class that needs no introduction, has been updated in the Holonet, and the two Advanced Classes of Guardian and Sentinel have been confirmed.

There’s an awesome new video added for the class as well, though admittedly I’m more excited by the quality of the combat and movement animations than I am by the Jedi Knight class. Gotta love how the cheeky little punting of the Bounty Hunter into the Sarlacc pit at the end there has already been dubbed the “Chuck Norris roundhouse kick.” Anyway, compared to some of the older class videos, it’s really amazing to see how the graphics and animations have evolved. That, in my opinion, is the most impressive part of the footage.

Not that the Jedi Knight class doesn’t look like it would be a hell lot of fun. Out of all the classes, however, I think it’s the least likely one I’ll play because all the others simply look so much more interesting, though I have no doubt they will be overwhelmingly popular at launch. Come to think of it, despite the iconic nature of the class, I haven’t personally met anyone so far who has said they will be rolling a Jedi Knight as their main when the game releases. But hey, maybe the new information and trailer might manage change a few minds.

Also, as a nice follow-up to the playable species revealed last week, the Inhabitants section has been updated with an entry on the Miraluka. *shudder* The idea of their vestigial eye sockets still creep me out no matter how many times I look at them.

As well, the newest installment of Blood of the Empire.

And look! Some droid love! He’s so cute…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,296 other followers