Posts Tagged ‘Environments’

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Rift: My Storm Legion Tour – Dungeons And Raids

October 24, 2012

Continuing with the write-up of my tour of Rift: Storm Legion during the beta weekend, in this post I’ll focus on what Community Manager James “Elrar” Nichols showed me regarding dungeons and raids. To view the previous part on the world and new zones, see here.

I was told that Storm Legion will launch with seven dungeons and a couple of raids — one 20-man and one 10-man — with another 20-man being added in the first big patch. It’s clear that just because they have a huge expansion coming out soon, this by no means indicates that the Rift team will be slacking on their update schedule. New content will continue rolling in as it has always done, and players won’t have long to wait.

I’ll confess right now that this post will be image-heavy. A lot of the encounters shown to me were still works-in-progress; that and time constraints meant that we didn’t do much fighting beyond Elrar exercising his supermod tour guide powers and insta-killing the bosses so we could check out the beautiful dungeon interiors. Works for me! It won’t do well to spoil the fights for myself at this early stage anyway, so I was happy to follow along, pressing my PrntScn key every two seconds in amazement at the environmental details.

Our first stop: Storm Breaker Protocol, a level 52-56 five-man dungeon. The first thing we did was climb into a mech-like robots, giving us access to a set of cool-sounding abilities like Eradication Pulse and Rocket Salvo. We proceeded to clear trash, and I was told players will also get a chance to fight bosses in these Storm Breaker robots. Elrar confirmed that these kinds of fights are new to Rift; like many of upcoming features we’ll see in Storm Legion, they’re the result of ongoing experimentation with new ideas and implementation of mechanics by the Rift team, ultimately letting the player response guide their decisions.

By the way, I want to mention that the level 60 character provided to me was a Mage, mostly because I told Elrar I was fascinated with what I’ve seen of the new Harbinger soul. In the end, I didn’t actually get much of a chance to experiment with his abilities during the tour, but the good news is the little I did see of his conjured blades and weapons spells confirms my suspicions that this “melee battle mage” soul is as unique as it looks.

The next dungeon we saw was Empyrean Core, a level 58-60 five-man instance intended for players towards the end of the leveling experience. Some stunning bosses and sights in there. Honestly, the following screenshots I took don’t do that place justice, as I lost a lot of the nuances created by the play of light and shadow.

Next, Elrar brought me to the Endless Eclipse, the 20-man raid that will be available about a month after Storm Legion’s launch, where players will eventually get to battle Regulos. Which reminds me, I want to mention that all throughout the tour I was being provided with commentary about the game  world’s history and background information behind all these instances. There’s context in all we’ll get to do in the new expansion, and not for the first or last time, I wished I was more well-versed in Rift lore.

Here’s a few images from that place; as you can see it’s appropriately “deathy” in there. Again, I want to emphasize that it looks so much better in game with all my settings cranked up.

 

Finally, we checked out Frozen Tempest, the 20-man raid that will be available at Storm Legion’s launch. Here, players will get to battle Crucia, the power-hungry dragon goddess who controls the minds of the Storm Legion cult which makes even Regulos shake in his boots.

Got some great pics in there of the two of us getting our butts kicked, because Elrar forgot to turn on his supermod powers of invulnerability. Here he is getting stomped on by a giant harpy (and I was next)!:


Stay tuned for my third and final post in which I will talk about what I saw of the highly anticipated Dimensions feature also known as Rift’s housing system. Believe me when I say it deserves a full post dedicated to it all on its own! Not that everything else I’d seen so far didn’t look fantastic, but Elrar definitely saved the best for last during our tour. And thus, so will I!

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Kingsmouth Hits All The Right Buttons

July 2, 2012

I believe I’ve mentioned before that one of the things that impressed me about The Secret War is its atmosphere. Funcom pays tribute to the masters of horror fiction and media while deftly utilizing elements defined by pop culture to play to our fears. The whole game oozes a dark, creepy vibe, and the town of Kingsmouth illustrates this nicely.

Stalked by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

TSW has perfectly captured a tiny slice of life in this beautiful, once peaceful seaside New England town that has been completely overrun by the forces of undead.

Playing in a dim environment with headphones on, it’s easy to become entirely immersed in the world without realizing that you’ve unwittingly ignored general and cabal chat for the last half hour (so I hope my guildies will forgive me for being anti-social).

It’s not just the quests that have grabbed a Kung Fu death grip hold on my attention, even though the investigation quests do tend to require a lot of concentration. It’s the sights and sounds that really do it for me — sudden loud noises like raid sirens ringing through the mist, the dozens of carrion crows perched disconcertingly over the devastation, or the innocent-looking corpses that suddenly animate as soon as you get close.

I also get a kick out of talking to the survivors of Kingsmouth and the flavor that they bring. I feel the script as well as the voice work are well done, though my husband, a native of Massachusetts, claims that Sheriff Helen Bannerman’s accent makes even the Pepperidge Farm guy sound authentic, so I guess what the hell do I know.

While I was playing yesterday, it occurred to me that seeing other player characters zip back and forth across my field of vision as we all run around actually, well, kind of works in this game. If anything, it plays to the confusion of waking up one day to find yourself sucked into the grips of a zombie apocalypse.

Funny thing is, I also always get this sudden urge to jump in and help another player fight whenever I come cross them in the middle of fending off zombies. Running past them or around them just feels…wrong? After all, humanity has to stick together to survive, and all that jazz. I think I watch too many zombie movies. A lifetime of that has conditioned me never to abandon a fellow human being to the undead.

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Played Lately: Week At A Glance

June 29, 2012

Well, this has certainly been a busy week for gaming, I’m sure my Raptr feed has not seen action like this in months. Here’s what has been occupying my time:

The Secret War

I’d originally planned on going into this “blind” but I caved during last week’s beta 4 weekend. My husband and I played a couple hours just to get a feel for it, and in the words of Mr. GC, “‘Ignite gas cans and draw zombies into the fire?’ God, I love this game!”

Zombie killling-wise, I’d say my sentiments echo his, but I do have my misgivings about the clunky feel of combat. Still, it’s something I can see myself easily getting used to. More importantly, I feel it’s a small price to pay to experience this unique game with its mystery-driven story and incredibly atmospheric setting, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where Funcom has focused most of its efforts. I’ve seen people describe themselves as getting “lost” in TSW, and I have to agree with that feeling wholeheartedly. I look forward to playing in the early access this weekend — Templar on Arcadia.

TERA Online

I’ve been dabbling in this MMO ever since I bought it for half-price earlier this month. I have to say combat in this game is drastically different from all other MMOs and is very engaging. Graphically, it’s also a feast for the eyes.

Still, I’m not feeling the motivation to play it much. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m not making the connection because I don’t think the reason has much to do with the gameplay, which I actually find quite enjoyable. It galls me to admit that it might be due to the art style. Maybe I’m just being shallow, but you’d be surprised how much something that could have an impact on my experience. I’ll probably go into it a bit more in a separate post at a later date, but for now I plan on getting the most out of my free month and we’ll see where I’ll go from there.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

This is still my MMO of choice, and will probably remain so for a while even when newer games this year will come out and vie for my attention. Patch 1.3 was released earlier this week on Tuesday, and I had been looking forward to checking out the updates it offers.

I haven’t really had a chance, though. For the last few weeks, I’ve been playing on the Imperial side almost exclusively, concentrating on leveling up that Bounty Hunter I’ve always wanted, the class I’d dreamed about ever since the game was announced. Coupled with my husband’s Sith Warrior, we’re steadily making progress towards level 50 and I hope we can keep up the pace, as level-capping her is currently one of my MMO goals. Right now we find ourselves on Hoth, on the cusp of wrapping up Chapter 2.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

I swear, I’ve had this game and AC: Revelations sitting on the to-play pile still in their original wrapping since…damn, I think November of last year. In fact, I think I picked them both up during a Black Friday deal, telling myself that I’d better get it now at a good price since I had definite plans to play both at some point anyway. Famous last words. Incidentally, that’s also how I ended up with my unmanageable Steam to-play pile.

Okay, so it was probably a terrible, terrible idea to start this game Monday on the eve of the Skyrim: Dawnguard DLC and Mass Effect 3 extended cut releases, but I had a feeling deep down that if I didn’t open that box like right now it was never going to happen otherwise. And so, I spent the day playing Ezio and getting used to climbing walls and shoving around civilians again. I also discovered something about myself: I am way too impatient and bloodthirsty to make a good, stealthy assassin.

Mass Effect 3

No spoilers. I downloaded the extended cut for the ending first thing Tuesday and fired up my last save point that afternoon in order to see the changes. However, this time around I decided to choose a different ending, opting for red instead of green. Then, I watched the other endings on YouTube.

As you may know, I’d just finished the game earlier last week, with the original ending. I had a friend tell me that I should have waited for the extended cut to arrive before I did, but after seeing the new ending I’m glad I didn’t. Having played the original version so recently made me appreciate the new one all the more. It really emphasized for me my problem with the old one in the first place — not the actual events of the ending itself, but instead just how lazily the entire sequence was executed.

The new ending fleshed out the story, explaining some of the ramifications and the fates of my squadmates and friends. More importantly, it had feeling — which was what I felt was lacking in the original. I was almost brought to tears in the final moments, and that’s when it hit me: the storytelling is what I like most about these games, and the emotions they evoke. It’s not the what but the how, as in this was how the story should have been told, in the BioWare way that I know and love.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dawnguard

No spoilers. This week, I made my return to Tamriel in order to play the new DLC (I own the game for the Xbox 360). Thanks to the new content, I get to be a vampire lord! Er, a very nasty and ugly vampire lord, as in no one will be swooning over me anytime soon. Disappointed to say that playing as a vampire lord is a bit of a pain though, and I’ll probably only do as much as it takes to get my vampire perks, then go back to fighting and adventuring in my Nightingale gear.

I also get to ride a new flaming undead horse, which to me was a very timely addition, seeing as how one time these bandits shot and killed my last horse almost the instant I quick traveled and loaded into the zone. I wasn’t even on it! I’m not kidding, that actually kinda pissed me off, damn cowards that would shoot an opponent’s horse…

Uh, back on topic, so far I’m liking Dawnguard. Still, I’m not sure if it will be worth the money for some. As most expansions like these go, there seems to be one main quest line driving the entire thing, spruced up with some goodies like new weapons and locations, etc. on the side, but not much else. It also makes the gameplay feel more linear than I’m used to getting from Skyrim. You do, however, get to go deeper into the lore of the game, which is one of the strongest aspects of the Elder Scrolls series and incidentally something I happen to really enjoy.

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SWTOR: Utinni!

June 8, 2011

I didn’t follow E3 as closely today, playing some catch up with my work instead (on account of all the time I puttered away yesterday, watching all the presentations). I did, however, catch a couple of Star Wars: The Old Republic live streams and features.

One of them was a live demo session hosted by Daniel Erickson from the show floor, answering fan questions and showcasing a Bounty Hunter questing on the planet of Tatooine. The video can be viewed here.

My interest was piqued immediately, for not only is the Bounty Hunter my class of choice, BioWare had also been teasing Tatooine for a couple weeks now and I was really looking forward to seeing it. Everything sort of fled my mind, however, the moment they revealed Blizz the little Jawa companion. Tally another point under the “Reasons to play a Bounty Hunter” column, please!

Oh em gee, will you just look at how cute and cuddly he is. Though, I almost choked to death on my Coke when someone actually asked if he was romance-able (he’s not, thank god). Sorry, but that’s just wrong. Sooo wrong.

They’ve done a wonderful job on the environment; despite the lowered graphic settings for the live stream, everything still looked very beautiful and Tatooine-y. Oh, and massive. Something tells me I’ll be extremely grateful for my speeder “mount” for traveling. Other highlights — a med probe ability that acts similarly to the Rift “soulwalk” when you die, unlimited inventory space for quest items, ability to switch out your companions on the fly for convenience while soloing or grouping, and many other quality-of-life features.

You can’t sell your companions, which was sort of obvious to me, but I still couldn’t help but be amused by Erickson’s answer of no slavery in the Old Republic — if only because it reminded me of how long I’ve personally pondered the ethics of selling, trading, and even sending your bridge officers through the mail like some kind of human chattel in Star Trek Online. Heh.

The other live stream I watched was the short interview on SWTOR raids (which they call “Operations”), as well as the trailer for the Eternity Vault encounter on Belsavis:

You know what it reminded me of? Oddly enough, Episode II. Yep, Attack of the Clones. Battle of Geonosis. The scene where Padme finally professes to Anakin that she truly…deeply…loves him (like, really?) before they and Obi-Wan are hauled off to become creature food, and Mace Windu and his 212-member Jedi strike team have to step in at the nick of time to rescue their asses. The scene where, outnumbered 50 to 1, the Jedi fight to the end in a charlie foxtrot of running feet, flying blaster bolts and flashing lightsabers, utter chaos exploding in every corner of the arena.

In short, Geonosis was a complete gong show and it was the first thing I thought of. Not that that’s a criticism of the above trailer, however. On the contrary. Large-scale battles like that should be messy, they should be chaotic. I thought some of the game footage they showed captured that vibe very well. That said, there were glimpses of what appeared to be boss fights, but also many encounters where the players split up to engage multiple enemies — the latter is what I hope we’ll get to see more of. In any case, I don’t know what else to make of SWTOR raids yet, with still so little to go on.

I did also manage to catch the Nintendo unveiling of the WiiU this afternoon. This year seems to be all about the possibilities for me. The possibility of me actually using a Wii product again for something else other than exercising and work out games if I got the touchscreen controller. The possibility I might actually be drawn into the world of handheld gaming by the Playstation Vita. The possibility I might finally have enough reasons to get a Kinect. All prospects, but nothing really jumped out at me.

My main interest still lies more in MMOs than in consoles or anything, though I’ve enjoyed every minute of the coverage over the last couple of days on games like Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations and even Neverwinter.

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Star Trek Online: Remastered “Diplomatic Orders” And “Doomsday Device”

May 31, 2011

Star Trek Online keeps giving me reasons to hop back into the captain’s chair. This long weekend saw the release of two remastered episodes and I thought I’d take some time to share some thoughts and screenshots — because some of the new changes the devs have made to “Diplomatic Orders” and “Doomsday Device” are seriously neat.

Diplomatic Orders

Not surprised at all that this was one of the episodes that got remastered, since in my opinion it was always one of the best missions in the game. In fact, “Diplomatic Orders” was also the first episode I did again when the rerun feature got put into the game, way back when. The story has since been updated, with new cutscenes and voice overs.

Just a couple of highlights — I absolutely adore the new Vulcan. The environmental tweaks to it are especially impressive — lines making up the landscape are much smoother, easier on the eyes, and looks more natural. No more awkward structures and strange dips in the sand. As to why I feel this is noteworthy, the fact that I got my stupid ass stuck behind a monolith the first time I ever set foot on the old Vulcan might have something to do with it. This new Vulcan, on the other hand, is beautiful and dummy-proof!

My other favorite part about this mission is the new reward — Data Recorder which allows you to replay Leonard Nimoy’s lovely Spock voice over again and again as much as I could ever want. I’m also quite keen on the likeness, which by the way, Cryptic, any chance we can ever get a Spock holo? T’Androma would love something like that to put on her bridge so she can…um, okay, never mind.

Final verdict: Excellent.

Doomsday Device

Not that I didn’t appreciate the alterations to the story, the conclusion, and all the good stuff like the new cutscenes, but…simply put, I felt out of my element for this remastered version of “Doomsday Device”.

Firstly, T’Andy gets beamed over to the Klingon ship alone. I had some NPC back up, but I was never able to shake the nagging feeling that my bridge officers should really be the ones doing this with their captain, or at least the part where we clear the ship. Secondly, much of the space combat in this episode now happens in a Klingon ship. It felt different, but wouldn’t have been so bad if it didn’t also feel so grossly under-equipped after being so used to flying and fighting in my own Maelstrom.

Speaking of which, T’Andy’s Klingon disguise is hideous, her unfortunate features only offset in the image above by the awesome sauce that is the majestic Bird of Prey docked in the background.

The new cutscenes and voice overs were great as usual — I honestly never expected to be serenaded to by a Klingon! Albeit it was a war song, probably about breaking my spine, or some such. A rousing tune, nonetheless, and what is arguably one of the most epic cutscenes in any game.

The new story elements, however, have its costs. Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to remember the old version of this mission being a little more action-packed, with a lot less chatter and running back and forth. The mechanics for the final fight has also been changed, which confused me at first — I kept wondering where to go to pick up my special torpedoes as that was what I remembered most about from the original! As it is now, the Hargh’peng torpedoes are already loaded which made life a lot easier, but the doomsday device is just as deadly.

Good thing I’m not above getting myself blown up for a couple of nice screenies!

A lot more where that came from, as the remastered environments are probably what I appreciated most about this episode.

Final verdict: Didn’t like the remastered “Doomsday Device” as much as I thought I would but it’s still a lot of fun, and in my opinion much improved from the original.

In fact, I would recommend my fellow STO captains give all the remastered episodes a try if you haven’t already; it’s worth it, and if anything the new rewards are nice. Even “Stranded in Space” has a new Azura Personal Comm Code reward that will allow you to access your bank, mail or a store from anywhere in the galaxy! It’s very handy.

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Stunning

April 28, 2011

I’ve been taking in all of today’s news coming out of #SWTOUR (the Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Fan Site Summit) with casual aplomb, until I saw this exclusive screenshot of Nar Shaddaa from Oldrep.de that almost made me wet myself.

Wow. I mean, futuristic sci-fi cities aren’t exactly the easiest game environments to pull off, so shots like these tend to catch my eye. For this reason, for all the scenic beauty of Alderaan or nostalgic charms of Taris, my favorite planet will probably end up being Coruscant or something. I’ve always felt more at home in big cities anyway.

For more general information out of the Fan Site Summit, I’ve been following Darth Hater; nothing too earth shattering thus far, but interesting nonetheless.

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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.

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