Posts Tagged ‘Story’

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TSW Monday: “Mortal Sins” Committed, Er, Completed!

September 17, 2013

Change of pace for The Secret World Monday this week; while my fellow guildmates helped one of our own complete the last Elite dungeon he needed for the achievement and to unlock the gatekeeper, I was able to finally do some questing in the game world.

Mara

Most importantly, I really wanted to finally finish the main story quest line because it has been more than a year since the game’s been out, and yet I STILL don’t have it done. It was getting embarrassing.

And also, I could desperately use the AP/SP. Running dungeons unfortunately hasn’t been getting me too far in that department, and it’s been a while since I completed a pre-made deck and earned a new outfit.

Engine

Anyway, I was very close already (at tier 24/29 or something like that) while in the Carpathian Fangs in Transylvania, and so it was totally doable in one sitting. Being in Elite gear now also really helped speed things up. By the end of the night, I could proudly say I have “completed” the game! Main story-wise, in any case.

Angel

I’m so glad I did. And I’m not going to reveal spoilers, but at the end it really sounded like all of it was gearing up for the “event” in Tokyo. If so, I’m doubly happy I got this done, because a big update is anticipated for the game in the near future, and if it’s going to be the follow up to everything I did for the main storyline, I’m glad that I’ve caught up.

Finally, the other highlight of the night: new achievements with outfit rewards! I’m looking good in the Streetwear Samurai outfit, don’t you think? And my new purple blade I bought with Black Bullions!

streetwear samurai

 

 

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The Faults Of Theramore

September 20, 2012

I’ll admit it; before this week, I knew very little about the new World of Warcraft scenarios that will be introduced with the Mists of Pandaria expansion. All right, so I don’t deny that I’ve had my head way too far up in the pet battle system to give any other upcoming feature much thought…

This changed Monday when the game went live with Theramore’s Fall, and I discovered that “instanced three-person group quest” pretty much describes scenarios in a nutshell, and no particular need for tanks or healers. The only difference is, objectives are given to you in stages, so you’ll have to complete them in order to move the story forward.

Yes, you heard that right. Story. My excitement level rose when I learned this, mindful of the rich and colorful lore behind the Warcraft franchise and pondering the many ways Blizzard can now use this new mode of story-telling to their advantage.

But days later, it appears that the Fall of Theramore scenario has been showered with rather unanimously tepid reviews. Personally, I was tempted to agree, even though the joy of being back to playing with my old WoW guild pretty much trumped every complaint I had — the fact that it was too short, not very inventive, and just in general lacked the oomph I would have expected from an expansion pre-launch event.

Still, because I’ve read Tides of War, the WoW novel that provides all the details behind this event, I didn’t notice anything amiss about the story until I saw Green Armadillo’s post, and then I realized that he’s absolutely right — if you haven’t read the book, you’ll have absolutely no bloody clue what it’s all about. So a mana bomb hits Theramore, a bunch of ships are burning, and Jaina Proudmoore’s hair is now white and she’s being scary. Okay. Since I’m Alliance, I only did that faction’s version of the scenario, but I looked up some videos of the Horde side, and things look even more confusing over there if you don’t know what’s going on.

Actually, now that I’ve taken some time to think further about it, even I’m slightly peeved at how everything in the book was hastily boiled down to a short cutscene and a couple lines of dialogue. Selling us short with explosions and cheap destruction is what this is, as so much of what made this a poignant, momentous event for Azeroth was completely left out. This isn’t fluff I’m talking about either; this is the actual whys-and-hows behind what’s happening, which you’d think would be relevant to the understanding of the story.

Also, call me crazy, but while a tie-in novel should give players more background and context into the story, I don’t think the most important and exciting scenes should be locked and hidden away behind its covers. Not to mention how people, you know, tend to get irritated when they have to shell out more money for pertinent additional story to a game they’re already paying monthly to play. (And I say this even as someone who reads a lot of game books, and enjoy doing so a lot.)

A longer instance with more explanation and detail seems to be what most players wanted out of the scenario, so if being story-driven was their goal, it’s clear that the opportunity and potential was squandered with this one. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure Blizzard is well aware they missed the mark with FoT, and hopefully future scenarios (at least ones that don’t have anything to do with limited-time events) won’t be so cut-and-dry. WoW has plenty of material to work with and now they have real way to deliver context with content; they just need to beef up the execution especially since a good story component has recently become something many gamers expect from their MMOs.

And finally, not that I’m frustrated about my bad luck of not getting anything else in my reward bags or anything, but…fireworks? Considering Theramore was just wiped off the map, a little harsh, no? Well, pretty, at least!

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Weekend MMOing

August 20, 2012

The Secret World

Last week I began reining in my playtime for The Secret World, but mind you, not because of a waning interest. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; by Friday night my character had made enough progress to enter The Shadowy Forest for the very first time, which is the second zone in Transylvania.

I’m slowing down now, because every step brings me closer to finishing the story line and I’m dreading the day I will reach the end. Quite simply, the story and writing in this game has blown away. I’d thought Star Wars: The Old Republic was the height of MMO storytelling, but TSW can give it a run for its money. I’m basically trying to savor it while I can, and make the experience last.

So far, the most memorable moment for me was probably immediately right after I completed the quest Virgula Divina. If you play TSW and haven’t done it, 1) you’re in for a treat, and 2) when you do receive this mission, do yourself a favor and don’t attempt it alone at night or right before sleeping. If you don’t play TSW and/or don’t care about spoilers, look up any number of YouTube walkthroughs for this quest chain and you’ll understand why I feel this is the most disturbing, creepiest, most twisted quest I have ever done in an MMO (and also why my thoughts alternated between “Funcom, you guys are so @#%&ed up” and “OMG this is the best quest ever!” while playing it.)

A part of me hopes that spreading myself out a bit better now will allow the monthly content to catch up, as well as most of the cabal who are behind me at the moment. I like doing group content in this game, and have been running Darkness War as well as The Ankh which I did for the first time last week when I went back to tackle it with my friends, many of whom are still questing in Egypt.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I finally ended my continuous-since-launch SWTOR sub earlier this month, in order to free me up to pick up World of Warcraft again. There’s still some time before it lapses though, and it just so happened the game kicked off the Grand Acquisitions Race last week, a world event involving an interstellar scavenger hunt.

I contemplated skipping it, and almost did until it occurred that with my game time ending soon, I might as well finish off my last days in SWTOR by having some fun in it. A week long world event seemed like the perfect opportunity with just the right amount of that for-the-heck-of-it vibe to draw me in, plus BioWare had to go and say the magic words: pet rewards.

After catching wind of issues related to the crowds, I sought to avoid them by waiting until this weekend to complete the event objectives. For the most part, it paid off, though smuggler crates were still plenty scarce.

Having really no alts in this game also kind of came back to haunt me. Most of the rewards you can buy with Tokens of Enrichment during this event are bind on legacy, favoring those who can do this event on multiple characters to increase and pool their token haul. Having only two characters that are high enough for Nar Shaddaa meant that even after doing the quests on my Jedi Guardian and Bounty Hunter, I was still quite a bit shy from the 250 tokens needed for the damn Lobelot pet. Thus it came down to collecting smuggler crates for me, which like most farming stints proved to be quite a pain in the behind.

That was probably the only disappointing thing about this event, because on the whole, it wasn’t bad at all. After the bad month SWTOR has had with its restructuring and layoffs, and despite it being painfully obvious that my character did not speak or have any voiced interaction at all, they still managed to do a decent job. It’d be nice if the event would last a little longer, but a week is still much preferable to month-long MMO events that require tedious daily quest grinding. A scavenger hunt was not only quite unique, I also found it enjoyable…up until the smuggler crates. I feel that world events should inherently be about the fun; you should do them because you want to, without the element of feeling rushed or forced to grind.

In the end, I did manage to get my Hagnoffarl pet for completing the scavenger hunt, as well as the Lobelot. I even debated collecting more tokens for the mount. At that point, however, I had to stop myself and ask if that was truly what I wanted to do with my time. I shouldn’t be doing it if I’m not having fun, and sometimes I just have to step back and snap myself out of it.

World of Warcraft

WoW kept me quite busy this weekend; if I wasn’t on my main, then I was on my baby Mage, leveling with a bunch of people from my TSW/SWTOR guilds who have all started lowbie alts to play together.

On the Mage, I’ve been tearing through Azeroth with Paganrites, who started over with a brand new account with the Recruit-a-Friend invitation that I sent him. I’ve always heard from others about the ridiculous rate of experience gain that veteran and recruit get from the bonus when leveling together, but I am finally seeing this for myself. It’s actually quite disgusting how quickly we’re blowing through the levels.

I’ve given up doing heroics on my 85 at this point, with the pre-expansion patch coming in about a week and Mists of Panderia arriving in about a month. Instead, I’ve been working on dailies.

I know I’ve expressed my loathing of daily quests in the past, but surprisingly, these aren’t so bad for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s been a while since I’ve done WoW dailies so they still feel somewhat fresh, but also there are a crap ton that actually are completely new to me. For instance, I have never done the ones out on Tol Barad Peninsula until a few days ago, and I also just unlocked the Firelands dailies by doing the quest chain last week. It was one big confusing mess, but I finally managed to figure out how many of those quests I should be getting.

The other reason why I haven’t found doing WoW dailies all that terrible: there are just so damn many of them that I don’t have to choose the same ones to do every day. One day I might decide to do the ones out in Deepholme, work up some Therazane reputation. Another day I might mix it up with some cooking or fishing dailies. Sometimes I go out to Uldum to bomb some troops or bash some thieving pluckers. I have so many goals — gaining exalted rep with factions, daily achievements for rewards, getting my guild rep up, just to name a few — that pretty much anything I do will be counting towards something.

Most of these also include a pet reward of some kind at the end (Rustberg gull, dark phoenix hatchling, Pebble, etc.), so that’s extra motivation. Really looking forward to the pet battles in MoP, so I’m putting in extra effort to build up my “menagerie arsenal”.

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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: Massively Yours

November 21, 2011

Gathering for a world boss.

Now that the gag order has lifted from the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta test, I want to get something off my chest. This is something I’ve wanted to talk about for the past few months, but every time the topic comes up I’ve had to hold my tongue because of the NDA. Well, no longer.

For a while now, it’s made me very uncomfortable whenever I go on Twitter, the forums, or other gaming community websites and see people apply the term “single-player MMO” to SWTOR in a deprecatory way. I’m sure we’ve all seen the type of comments. You know, the kind that imply SWTOR isn’t a real MMO, or that it’s just a single-player RPG pretending to be one, or something along those lines. It was so far-reaching at one point, that I began having my own reservations when I first got my invite to general testing, and wondered if SWTOR would not turn out to be the MMORPG I’ve been looking for.

Looking back now, I was crazy to have been worried. Even after just a week with The Old Republic, it was clear to me that this is a gen-u-wine, bonafide massively multiplayer online game, with all the delicious goodness that comes with a very large number of players interacting with one another within a persistent virtual world.

So I got to thinking, out of all the recent MMOs currently on the market and in development, why does SWTOR get singled out like this (pun intended) more than any of them? I mean, yes, it is possible in the game to level from the beginning to level cap solo, but if that’s the definition of a single-player MMO then a lot of current games would fall into that category as well. But I just don’t feel any game gets abused with the “single-player” label as much as SWTOR does.

I have a few theories, but I do believe the single most important factor that leads people to this misconception about SWTOR is the fact that it boasts story, companions, and a quest line unique to a player’s class. Well, if I’m correct, then this has proven to be a double-edged sword. Arguably, these features are the biggest draw about the game, but they may have also given some people the impression that SWTOR is merely a single-player experience disguised as an MMO.

Perhaps it is also BioWare’s reputation as a developer of AAA single-player RPGs. When people hear the name, no doubt their recent successes like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series spring immediately to mind. And yet, it is true that SWTOR is their first venture into the MMO space, so it’s only natural to to be curious whether or not BioWare can break from their long history of developing single-player games in order to make this monumental leap.

The thing is, it is highly likely that BioWare knew full well from the beginning that proving they can handle an MMO was going to be an uphill battle. I say this, because I’ve seen the way their game goes above and beyond to encourage interaction and socialization between players, as well as provide plenty of opportunities for group play:

  • Group Quests – Around half a dozen of these on each planet, intended to be completed with 2+ or 4+ players. The former are sometimes soloable, but the latter are definitely not. They mostly reward commendations or very nice blues.
  • Flashpoints – SWTOR’s version of instances, designed to be experienced by a full group of four players. In addition, some FPs have bonus objectives within them that require the involvement or cooperation of two or more people to complete.
  • PvP Warzones – Success in a SWTOR WZ often requires strategy and understanding of the rules and objectives, e.g. Huttball (dear lord, don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve seen a player who doesn’t know how to pass, or run a ball back to their own end zone). A group of random players will likely be at a marked disadvantage against a premade whose members are coordinated and knowledgeable
  • World Bosses – Most planets have one or two that I’ve seen. If the live game will be anything like testing, world bosses will also drop some very rare loot. For example, the boss droid on Alderaan has a chance of dropping a white crystal that as far as I know, you can’t get anywhere else in the game (at least in that build at the time). I’ve defeated world bosses with as few as four players, while others take more. The aforementioned Alderaan killer droid, for instance, took ten of us including a few high 40s to just barely take him down.
  • Crew Skills – Sometimes, crafting will require getting necessary materials from crew skills you may not have. While the Galactic Trade Network was still being tweaked in testing, many of us turned to direct trade with our friends and fellow players.
  • Datacrons – Here we get to the activities that are more specific to SWTOR. Datacrons are an optional element of the game, and are objects placed throughout the worlds for enthusiastic explorers to find. A few are easily stumbled upon, but most require some poking around the entire planet. Once you located them, however, the true challenge is figuring out how to get to them. I’ve encountered DCs that require everything from creative thinking, solving logic puzzles, finding unconventional paths, or yes, even grouping.
  • Social System – As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier post, I love this feature in SWTOR and it’s the only MMO I’ve ever played with something like this. It is completely optional once again, but it’s a nice perk. To gain social points, all you have to do is group up and participate in group conversations. Every time you win a convo-loot roll you gain the maximum number of points for that roll. Even if you lose the roll you gain points, just less. Racking up social points will help you gain social ranks (I, II, III, etc.) and each time you go up one you get a nifty little title. And the best part of all, rare cosmetic and vanity items from social vendors become available to you!
  • Bonus XP - Thanks to my guildies for helping me confirm this, but I believe that unlike most MMOs, experience is not as reduced per mob kill for group members who are at a similar level, so you’ll be progressing faster. In addition, there are ways to gain bonus XP in groups — completing a class quest with your buddy will reward you with some XP when he or she completes it even if you don’t have it in your log, for example. Doing “bonus” type quests with others will also reward you some extra XP if you complete it in a group. It is a HUGE incentive, making it in a player’s best interest to group up whenever possible.

Thinking about it now, throughout my journey from 1 to 50, if I had seized upon every single opportunity presented to me during my time testing in order to take advantage of the above, I would have easily spent 25-33% of my time grouped up. Maybe even more. So you’ll forgive me if I really don’t see SWTOR as a “single-player MMO”, or at least not any more “single-player” than the bulk of what’s out there.

Solo-oriented players need not fret though! You can still play the game and complete your entire class story by yourself — nothing in your personal storyline will require a group. And as you can see, much of what I listed above is completely optional, and the advantages you gain are extra perks but definitely not of the game-breaking variety. But SWTOR is a huge game, and your class story will only be a fraction of the content — I do urge everyone to participate in group activities once in a while. If you’re a hardcore solo-er you’ll still have a lot of fun without ever having to group up with another player, but be forewarned you may also be missing a lot of good stuff!

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SWTOR Beta Test: The Obligatory General Impressions Mega-Post

November 18, 2011

The time has finally come — you know, where I start assaulting you all, my poor readers, with my impressions of Star Wars: The Old Republic from general testing over the last five months, now that the NDA for testing has been lifted.

I do have plans to expand upon much of the following in future posts (as if only one gargantuan wall-of-text won’t be enough, right?) But there are quite a few thoughts I do want to toss up on here first. I took a bunch of notes throughout my testing experience, which are a mess right now and which I should really try to consolidate into something coherent. While I love the game and had a lot of fun testing, much of this ended up being the basis for the “constructive criticism” I offered up during feedback, so hopefully this impression piece will come across fair and balanced. I aim to be completely honest.

Overall Thoughts

You’ll probably hear this a lot, but it’s true — the first thing that came to my mind when I first played SWTOR was “Knights of the Old Republic Online”. That is, if I was forced to reduce my description of the game to a diminutive label. I don’t like to, but if I must.

I get the feeling that BioWare determined their target audience early on, and that was how they approached the game. What I mean is, this is an extremely linear MMO and it is never going to be anything but a theme park, so if you are into sandbox type games, it is not for you. Likewise, if you loved KOTOR and came to this expecting to recapture exactly the same single-player experience, it also won’t be for you. Despite what you might hear, SWTOR is a massively multiplayer online game. You can play this solo, but if you want to get the most of it, at some point you’ll have to interact with other people.

I think too many people will expect this to be an revolution and the next step in how MMO games are made, but if so, you’ll be disappointed. SWTOR is simply another iteration of the MMO, taking many things that work and making them better, but it’s by no means a complete redesign of the MMO philosophy. BioWare set their sights on one thing and went about to do that one thing very well — and that’s story. The focus isn’t so much on gameplay, but on the interaction behind it.

Now, with all those caveats out of the way, I’ll say this — I’m a gamer of fairly flexible tastes, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I had with this game. Despite some nitpicky issues I had, in general my overall view of SWTOR is extremely positive.

Character Creation

I’m happy to say I found it adequate, though customization options are still not as robust as I would like. APB or Age of Conan this is definitely not, but there will still be plenty of choices available for you to fiddle around with to make the chance of you running into someone else looking exactly the same as you very, very slim. You can also have apostrophes and hyphens in your character name — a small, trivial detail, but it made me happy nonetheless.

UI

Not a big fan, personally. But then again, I was coming off from playing Rift (which came with a highly customizable and flexible UI right out of the box) and for a couple months this year, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (whose UI I modded up the wazoo). While I played, I yearned for more action bars and a way to move my modules around, and other little things like see-target-of-target. For now, it serves its purposes though, and I give it that it’s very neat and clean.

Advanced Classes

Each class branches off into two paths, and you choose one to follow once you reach level 10 or so. Your Advanced Class is a permanent choice that then determines your role for the rest of the game. I tested both ACs for the Trooper class, and I’m pleased to say the two paths offer up very different and varied styles of play. As a Vanguard, I also wasn’t only limited to defense and tanking; I could also choose to be more damage-oriented if I wanted. Same deal for the healing-capable Commando. It depends on how you allocate your skill points, and this part can easily be respecced.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been praising SWTOR for the flexibility in their class roles — that is, the astute and observant player can quickly access a situation — say, in a flashpoint — and offer whatever support is needed despite the role they’ve been invited to play. You can be the DPS Jedi Guardian but still be a halfway decent tank on the fly, if it was suddenly required of you. The “hybrid” ACs enjoy this perk. I find the two that lack this advantage, however, are the straight-DPS Gunslinger and Jedi Sentinel, and I hope in the future BioWare will give them more utility in group play.

Combat

If you’re an MMO veteran, I’m sad to say you probably won’t find combat during the first 10 or so levels very exciting at all. To be fair, BioWare no doubt calibrated difficulty and complexity to balance the experience for gamers of all backgrounds, and to be honest, I would rather them err on the side of caution than risk frustrating newcomers to the MMO genre. So the bad news is, combat doesn’t feel “heroic” right off the bat, and some might even find it boring.

The good news, however, is that as you level up, the combat gets a lot more interesting. By the mid 20s, I was really getting into it. And by 50, I was having a ton of fun. The XS Freighter Fly-Over FTW.

After you choose your Advanced Class, more abilities become available to you. A lot of them play off each other, and depending on the points you allocate to your skill trees, you can start to vary your strategy a little depending on the situation. Say, your tank’s health is low and your healer needs some time to catch up? My Gunslinger, even as a ranged DPS, never passed up the chance to run up to a mob just to kick him in the balls. It buys the group a few seconds, and while I was in melee range anyway, here’s a blaster whip and a cheap shot to the face too! A smuggler never wastes a good opportunity.

Crafting

It’s very…interesting. For better or worse, I can honestly say I’ve never experienced a crafting system like this. The great thing is, you can order your companions to do the grunt work for you, and so I can be happily questing to my heart’s desire while 3-4 crew skills are ticking away (at higher levels). Of course, this also means the process is less hands-on.

I’m generally not big on crafting in most MMOs, however, and in SWTOR I have to say I’m still not seeing a great incentive to do it, other than the fact I can keep working on it while I do my usual leveling. Plus, mission crew skills eat up your credits really, really quickly, so it’s something I still might want to save for later when I’m all leveled up.

Questing

Your class has a main story line, but there are also general planet quests that everyone else can get.

Class quests are the cream of the crop. These are integrated into your story, and this is where the innovation is, and what makes SWTOR so unique. Here, the choices you make will determine whether you are, say, praised by your commanding officer (in my Trooper’s case, this was General Garza), or get majorly chewed out by her (and boy, can she be a real nag). These quests are crafted to your class story, so they often turn out to be the more interesting, humorous, impactful ones.

Then there are the general planet quests, which I have to admit are similar to those in any other themepark MMO — but on steroids. Voiceover and cinematography makes these otherwise mundane quests so much more immersive. Unlike other MMOs where I have to read a wall of text, I never had to force myself to focus on a quest in SWTOR. It just happened effortlessly and naturally, because the objectives are always delivered with context and emotion. I actually cared about the reasons why I had to rescue 5 nexu pups from the dirty pirates, or salvage some poor refugees’ lost belongings. And at the end if I get to make a light side/dark side choice out of it, SCORE!

On top of these, there are also the “Bonus quests” which are almost always of your kill-ten-rats variety. They are scattered everywhere, and pop up around the same area where you are doing your quests. But they are labeled “bonus” and hence are completely optional. Often, you’ll find you are doing it and completing it while working on the main objective anyway. It’s extra experience, and no harm to you if you find you can’t stomach the grinding and decide to skip them. You’ll probably want to skip them anyway, if you find you are in danger of outleveling content.

Interesting thing I observed though — as much as you hear complaining about the tediousness of kill-ten-rats quests, every single group I’ve ever played with in beta always insisted on completing the bonus — even after the main objective was done. Never underestimate the desire for more XP, or how deeply the instinct is ingrained in us to be completionists, whether you hate KTR quests or not.

Dark Side/Light Side

Not all decisions are black and white, which I was surprised to see. Some definitely are — but it also greatly depends on whether or not you want to roleplay your character, and if so, what class you choose.

I will say one thing though — going full dark side is freaking tough. Nothing makes you feel more like a bag of crap than screwing over a group of orphans, so congratulations to you if you can find it in yourself to soldier on through the tears or berating you get from your quest giver afterward.

Planets

In a word, they are HUGE. So huge, you will be crying tears of joy by the time you get to buy your first speeder. Quest indicators on the map are almost a necessity; otherwise, the game is so big you’d never be able to figure out where to go.

They are also gorgeous. Even wastelands like Tatooine and Hoth are places of beauty, and BioWare has captured the atmosphere of these and other Star Wars planets very well. Other, lesser known planets like Belsavis and Voss are also given the same detailed treatment. Every planet from Nar Shaddaa to Corellia has its own unique charm. There’s plenty to explore, especially if you’re into hunting down datacrons. Most of them you won’t come across while playing, the majority will be off the beaten path and you really have to poke around the entire planet to find them. And that’s the easy part! Then you have to figure out how to get to them…

PvP

I admit, I didn’t do a lot of PvP, other than a warzone here and there. I did play on a PvE test server, however, and so that’s probably why my opportunities to engage in fighting other players were minimal.

Still, my beta guildmates who were involved in a lot more PvP had much to say, and one who has a lot of experience and enjoys PvP gameplay immensely thought it was lacking in SWTOR compared to most other MMOs. To quote him, “3 warzones and 2 open world PvP areas makes SWTOR PvP worse than Warhammer which was head and shoulders above SWTOR PvP.”

I’m no expert, but from the handful of times I’ve PvPed in SWTOR, I would also have to admit it’s nothing very special.

Space combat

Didn’t like it. Well, okay, maybe “didn’t like” is too strong a term. Let’s just say I didn’t “feel it”. I test it once every build, and never really go back to it. BioWare has made many changes and improvements to it over the past few months, but I came to the conclusion very quickly that it just wasn’t my thing.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s great for what it is — a little side-game designed to be a fun distraction to the main game. While it’s on rails, it’s also fast-paced and quite challenging (but you can upgrade your ship to help with that). If you feel like varying your activities a little, you can always jump in, grab some space combat action, jump out. The problem is, I enjoyed my class story and the planet quests way too much, and often that was what I’d rather do. To be honest, this to me is a good thing — it’s what I call a “happy problem”.

Grouping

There were concerns that “story-mode” would make players feel like playing a single-player game, but I really didn’t get that feeling. On top of group quests and flashpoints, BioWare has added a lot of features that really encourage grouping. I just adore the social rank feature, for one. Being in a group conversation and involving yourself in “convo-loot” rolls will rack you up social points. Get enough social points, you gain social ranks. With social ranks, you buy social gear and goods. I came across a Jedi Consular one time decked in a full Leia gold-slave-bikini outfit, and it was awesome. Yep, social gear. So fans of vanity and cosmetic items will probably like this. Not to mention being in conversations with others is a lot more fun than expected.

Doing a CLASS quest with someone else can get a little tedious though. The most you get to be is a spectator, watching your friend go through their cutscenes. It’s almost like living their story vicariously through them, so if you don’t want spoilers, take this time to grab a drink or take a bio break.

Flashpoints

Most impressed I have ever been with an MMO’s instances. Still, not all FPs in SWTOR were designed equally, that’s my feeling, but I do have a few favorites — Esseles, Maelstrom, etc. It’s not so much the boss fights and the combat (though, as I’ve alluded to before, that can be quite interesting in a full group) than the execution and presentation. The FP isn’t just another instance you zone into and clear, it’s a self-contained story you become personally involved in. The ones I liked best were the ones that also gave you a ton of opportunities to make light side/dark side decisions.

Meanwhile, things are constantly happening around you, like exploding consoles or crashing ships. It’s an environment that’s hectic and alive, made even better by high production values — graphics, sound, cutscenes, cinematography, music, etc.

Another reason to do FPs — for the stories that are part of the game world. In your mid-30s, there’s a couple great FPs that shouldn’t be missed, and I won’t say anything more because it’s a big ginormous spoiler, but those who enjoy Old Republic lore will be very pleased.

Companions

They are a joy to have around! I was initially worried about seeing a ton of other Corso Riggs or Bowdaars running around the world ruining my immersion, but honestly, after a while that just fades into the background. It almost becomes like seeing someone else with the same combat pet, which is sort of what they are but also so much more.

You end up with five companions (not including your ship droid) by the end of your class story line, and classes don’t all receive them at the same point in the story/on the same planets. Each has different skills, and you are free to switch them in and out depending on what your situation calls for.

With most conversations you’ll have a chance to gain affection with your companions. I like how gaining it is easier than losing it, i.e. I often receive 15-20 points when I do something my companion approves of, but when I don’t I only lose 1 point (unless I really piss them off, in which case I can lose hundreds, but you see it coming a mile away). They each have their own history and personalities, and become a big part of your character’s life. You can please them or you can mess with their heads. In the case of Vette, my Sith Warrior kept the slave collar on her and generously zapped her with it all the way into the mid-20s. She never did warm up to me, as you can imagine.

Romances with your companions are also possible, and I heard from several of my buddies they even got to marry theirs at high levels (my husband wasn’t too pleased to hear that). Corso and I never got to that point, but we did become a “couple”.

Story

I saved the best for last. This is where BioWare’s forte is, and what they have accomplished here is phenomenal. And looking around, that seems to be the general consensus.

I was sucked into my class story right from the start, and it just gets better and better the deeper you get into the game. You’ll probably hear me say this again and again over the next week — but I can’t get over how well done my Smuggler’s class story was, from level 1 all the way to level 50. As in, I wished I knew the names of the writers for my Smuggler’s story, so I can send them each a personal thank you note telling them how much they have enriched my MMO experience. They made me laugh. They made me rage. They made me giggle with girlish glee, they made me gasp in surprise and ask out loud “Holy crap, did that actually happen?!”

You should have seen me freaking out to my guildies in guild chat when I was around the mid-40s, going, “OMG OMG OMG the best thing ever just happened to my Smuggler but dammit I can’t tell you because it will spoil!”

Much more on this topic in the future, but all I’ll say now is this: kudos BioWare, you have officially proven that story truly does matter.

Hope you enjoyed.

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A Key Cog – Thoughts On Gears Of War 3

September 29, 2011

While nothing too much has changed about the gameplay from the previous games and the campaign itself probably only took me a total of 14 hours to complete, what Gears of War 3 made me realize is that a good co-op game is a very special gem.

Throughout the years I’ve played a lot of really amazing single-player games and have enjoyed having adventures and exploring worlds on my own, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. But every so often something comes along and I learn to appreciate all over again the fun of experiencing all the joys of a game with a family member or a buddy.

It’s great to be able to play some co-op with my husband, and when I do, the time just flies by. Likewise, when I see my good friend online working his way through the game I’ll just jump in and play with him, and vice versa. Afterwards, we might chat online about what we did or bitch about which one of us is the bigger ass for stealing the other’s kills. It just adds a whole different level to the gaming experience.

I think there’s definitely some value in it, and I recall a case of a family friend who was able to connect with his older son through sports, but was struggling to find interests in common with his younger, geekier gamer son — that is, until they discovered co-op games on the Xbox360 like Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead, Army of Two…and yep, Gears of War.

Combat in Gears 3 feels familiar like it’s clear they didn’t want to stray from the path too much, but I can forgive it since the campaign was such a wild ride. The game never really slows down, it’s always throwing you into insane situations each more explosive than the last, and most surprisingly, the story and characters found a place in my heart.

Let’s get one thing straight — I never pick up these shooter-ish type games expecting there to be much in the way of dramatic or emotional back story. But the truth is, even within its testosterone-laden bromantic plot lines, there was something that reached out to me. I even felt myself tearing up a little at a couple of the cutscenes, no joke. Of course, right afterward the game did throw a bunch of lambents at me and I almost died because my eyes were blurry and I couldn’t shoot straight.

The characters were also more fleshed out in this last installment of the Gears trilogy, and I especially liked the highly-publicized addition of the female soldiers. Sam and Anya kick as much ass as the boys and I love the dialogue and unique dynamic they add to Gears 3. Given how I was told 90% of the game’s and characters’ stories happen in the series’ novels, I may just have to pick up a Gears book one of these days.

Then of course, there is the multiplayer, which really has to be reviewed separately from the campaign. I was never really interested in exploring the multiplayer content in the previous Gears games, but I was in Gears 3 which should tell you something. I probably spent the least amount of time in Versus mode, preferring Horde mode where I got to defeat waves of enemies with either friends or strangers in matchmaking, as well as the new and exciting Beast mode which allows you to play the Locusts.

In fact, Beast mode’s probably my favorite part of multiplayer. For me, it’s mostly pure unadulterated fun, whether you’re blowing heroes up with a Ticker or slicing them off at the knees with a giant Serapede.

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