Stellar Relic

Tag - World of Warcraft

Screenshot Saturday: Blood and Glory

SRHK

Videogames are confusing, beautiful, complicated messes, and the best way to convey that is through screenshots, whether they are beautiful, informative, or goofy. Each Saturday we bring you one screenshot each from a game we played. It’s Screenshot Saturday.

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Dave: I’ve been falling down the World of Warcraft rabbit hole again this past week. It started with a trip down memory lane not too long ago; then, I moved on and experienced some vanilla WoW thanks to a couple of private servers, which I’ll talk more about later. Eventually, though, I found myself back with my own account once more, looking at UI options and gear options and so on. Here’s the UI I ended up with (at least for now – it still needs some tweaks). It’s called RealUI and is super minimalistic – this is with the UI shown, out of combat. Once in combat, action bars appear, but when you’re not busy killing stuff you can enjoy as much of WoW as your eyes can take in. Pretty sweet!

SRHK

Thomas: Shadowrun: Hong Kong came out! I actually pre-ordered it, which is an insane thing to do, but I don’t regret it in this case. (Other pre-orders I have not regretted: X-Wing Alliance. End of list.) So far it seems very similar to Dragonfall in both mechanics and story. I love the gunplay and the XCOM-style cover system. The storyline is serviceable enough so far. And cyberpunk Hong Kong is pretty cool. This screenshot doesn’t have any action in it – I just really adore the environment art. Look at those lanterns, the lighting, the flowers, the little details! It’s lovely.

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James: Planetary Annihilation’s expansion pack, Titans, released this week, and it was just the thing necessary to get me back into blowing apart planets and looking at colorful little bots. It’s not even the titans that drew me back, although they are definitely nice; it’s the changes and optimizations to the core game that pulled me in. From better performance to a smoother interface to terrain changes that allow for elevation differences, Titans brings many quality of life features that make Planetary Annihilation much more of a joy to play. All we need now are multiplayer Galactic War instances and flat map projections, and we’ll finally have the Total Annihilation successor we really deserved.

Level Boost: The New Sorry

Nothing says I'm sorry like 'pay me another 60 bucks for less content'

Level boosts are becoming the ultimate make good for the developers of MMOs (and similar games) who are unable to make their old content compelling enough to play. “Sorry we can’t figure out how to make anything compelling beyond the new end game” is what each developer is saying, essentially, about level boosts. Sometimes, this is appropriate; after 10 years of playing WoW, I can honestly say that I never again want to do 1-60. Other times, it is less a quality of life thing and more of a ‘yeah, we know, this whole first bit kinda sucks and always has.’

Creating content that is both repeatable and compelling is an incredibly difficult challenge. Unless you are the type to enjoy grinding, there aren’t many games that manage to do it. In most genres this isn’t much of a problem, for a variety of reasons: the grind could be the whole point of the game (Diablo 3); the game could only need to be played once for full effect (The Last of Us); the players could be the ones in charge of producing content (EVE Online).

and by history we mean our whole game

This is why MMOs in particular are susceptible to alt-fatigue, the exhaustion of static content that must be repeated time and again. World of Warcraft is a pretty great example of a game with a high level of alt-fatigue potential. The game really only starts at max level – different character roles are required for group activities and you can reasonably expect a large portion of your players to want to experience multiple roles over time. Logically this means those players should want to play hybrid classes such as the Druid or the Paladin, but humans are illogical creatures. They will of course make a Warrior, and then a Mage, and then a Priest to cover the same bases that a single Paladin or Druid can.

The problem with this is that leveling through WoW is by and large the same experience no matter what class the player chooses. It is a static experience that clashes with the dynamic experience of end game content. You must do (by and large) the same quests, in (roughly) the same order, whether you are a warrior or paladin or mage or priest. Thus, ‘illogical’ players that roll three different classes to fill three different roles will likely not be enjoying the content on the second time through, and probably start to hate it on the third.

This person has a problem. They probably also really like Friends.

Image courtesy of Engadget.com

There are, of course, exceptions to this; my wife is in fact one of them. She enjoys completing the same content over and over and over again. She also is on her 1 billionth rewatch of Friends. For most people, though, repeating the leveling experience is not a compelling thing. That’s where the level boosts come in.

Developers like Bungie and Blizzard are no dummies when it comes to player experience; for all the griping that can occur on the internet, those two companies have actually repeatedly delivered some of the finest player experiences of their times. They worry about this problem no less than you hate that the problem exists, but creating handcrafted worlds that adhere to a narrative that they create seems, at least so far, fundamentally incompatible with a refreshing and compelling repeatable experience.

There is some hope. Advances in procedural generation of content could provide an avenue through which compelling narratives and worlds can be repeated – at least, that’s the hope of No Man’s Sky. And games like EVE Online have shown that there is a recipe for player-generated content that doesn’t end in tragic failure, though in those worlds the developer-created narratives often take a back seat to the player-generated drama.

Welcome to The Matrix, basically

For now, level boosts like the one Blizzard introduced in Warlords of Draenor and the one that Bungie are deploying with The Taken King are the implicit apology for a failure to generate compelling leveling experiences. These failures are not necessarily the result of negligence or ignorance on the part of the developer, though, contrary to what many embittered customers of those companies like to allege. They are the symptoms of the inherent design problem present in persistent, handcrafted online spaces.

Level boosts are a good thing, whether old timers or other detractors like it or not – at least, as long as developers are still trying to push the boundaries of the industry and find the way ahead. As a stop gap measure, level boosts are not only sufficient but considerate. The danger lies in whether companies see the level boost as another ‘feature’ to add on to expansions of content. Should we arrive at a point in mainstream development wherein level boosts are the ‘best practice’ for MMOs and no time is being spent on trying to fix the core issue that level boosts were created to address – well, then it’ll be time to just pack it all up and go home.

World of Warcraft: Legion Unveiled

Yep, this guy - again

On August 6th, at Gamescom in Germany, Blizzard held a press conference to announce that WoW 7.0 is going to be called Legion. The venerable MMO’s seventh expansion will take players to The Broken Isles, a set of sundered islands that are home to High Elves and the revived Burning Legion. And yes, that means that once again we’ll have Illidan Stormrage to contend with in an expansion.

First we went back to Draenor. Now we’re fighting Illidan again. One has to wonder if perhaps the lore of Warcraft has been exhausted at this point.

While the narrative might not be the freshest thing in the world, the features presented in the Legion announcement trailer seem substantial enough to lure back a large portion of players. Garrisons have been replaced with ‘Class Halls’, communal areas open to all members of a particular class; followers are becoming more powerful and more direct in their effect on your gameplay, with examples like ‘providing buffs for your hero in the zones the follower quests in’ being thrown out over the course of Blizzard’s hour-long press conference.

The big highlight of Legion has to be the new class being introduced: the Demon Hunter. Restricted to either night elves or blood elves, Demon Hunters will become the 12th playable class in World of Warcraft. While they are certainly visually striking – essentially mimicking Illidan in the aesthetics department – they are, at the end of the day, another leather-wearing hybrid class. They will use Demonic Fury and will be capable of either tanking or dealing damage.

I SEE GREEN PEOPLE

Hot on the heels of the Demon Hunter, though, was the revelation that essentially every specialization of every class will be receiving an ‘Artifact’ weapon – an upgradeable legendary that is consistent with the lore of the spec. Most intriguing about this system is that each weapon will represent a sort of secondary talent system, making me wonder how much of the artifact upgrade system is in fact the end result of the old Path of the Titans system that was announced for Cataclysm but never made it into the game. I also have to wonder if the artifact talent system will share the same fate, come to think of it.

The expansion features lots of new dungeons and raids and 10 more levels to get through; in addition, those who pre-order Legion will receive a complimentary character level boost to 100. While no official date of release was announced, a Blizzard press release did state that the beta would be out this year. Earlier this week, Activision Blizzard also announced that World of Warcraft subscriptions had fallen from 10 million seven months ago (upon the release of Warlords of Draenor) to 5.6 million (which is still a lot, but also a 10 year low point for the MMO).

THIS IS PROBABLY JUST A SHITTY TASER

If I’m totally honest, I’m not sure how I feel about Legion at first glance. The Demon Hunter is something I’m very interested in playing (IT CAN DOUBLE JUMP!) and I love the idea that not just every class, but every spec, will have their own personal storyline to get through with the artifact system (I was a fan of the old Paladin and Warlock mount quests in vanilla). Class Halls strike me as odd, though, and there just has to be some other compelling stories to tell than a rehashed Illidan arc.

I’ve seen some reference to Legion potentially being the spiritual successor to both The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions and I agree it certainly has that feel at first blush. Then again, so did Warlords of Draenor.

Screenshot Saturday: Wide Open Spaces

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Videogames are confusing, beautiful, complicated messes, and the best way to convey that is through screenshots, whether they are beautiful, informative, or goofy. Each Saturday we bring you one screenshot each from a game we played. It’s Screenshot Saturday.

WoW is not a dirty word dammit

Dave: A few weeks ago, my wife decided to restart her World of Warcraft subscription. We have both played WoW since 2005 (off and on) and both have fond memories, particularly of vanilla WoW and The Burning Crusade. Our constant return to (and subsequent departure from) the game speaks volumes of its nostalgic power. This time, I didn’t resubscribe along with my wife – instead I decided to hop on her account and make a character to run through Elwynn Forest and Westfall. It may be 10 years since we started playing, and the visuals are a bit different now, but those old spaces still hold a certain comfort.

Rule the Waves

Thomas: My current addiction is Rule The Waves. It’s June 1919; France and Austria-Hungary are at war, with French troops on the defensive in Tunisia as a naval war rages in the Mediterranean. Just west of Corfu, the French battlecruiser Duquesne spots and engages the Austro-Hungarian Taurus-class battlecruiser ArethusaDuquesne takes a 12 inch shell to the engine room early in the battle, slowing her, and the destruction of her aft turret makes attempting to escape futile. She turns and fights, and the war hangs in the balance.

All this fantastic narrative and technical complexity springing forth from a game that looks like it was designed 20 years ago. I love it.

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James: Far Cry 4 has a lot of problems. The overall structure of the game is unsatisfying, the sidequests are repetitive, and the balance is thrown out the window the moment you get a silenced sniper rifle. Despite it all, though, there is one thing Far Cry 4 does extremely well: beautiful wide-open landscapes. The nation of Kyrat is extraordinarily beautiful, with lush vegetation, towering mountains, and clear blue lakes. It may be difficult to recommend Far Cry 4 on the strength of its mechanics, but it’s (almost) worth playing for the vistas alone.