Nov 25, 2012

Fa la la la la, la la fuck you.

So, it's the start of that oh-so-wonderful holiday season. I'm a Grinchy type, for several reasons- retail, non-family-oriented, non-religious, etc. Here's a quick little timeline of just how enjoyable I find the holidays:
  • Around Halloween: Walk past the xmas trees, garland, and other crap to maybe find some Halloween costumes or candy.
  • Thanksgiving week: Black Friday! We love Black Friday! Hey, did you know Black Friday was coming? We'll play this same ad again 10 times during your show to remind you. If we didn't start playing the same crappy holiday music as last year (and the fifty before it) once Halloween passed, we'll start doing so now.
  • Thanksgiving Day: Family visits were okay, but there was never really any thinks, it was just what you did for the day. When I ostracized myself from family functions, I would stay home... and I really liked the quiet time to myself.
  • Black Friday: I worked these for about six years. I liked working them, it was a solid eight hours of work, kept busy, etc. Even back then, though, it reeked of greed, on both retail side and customer side. Sorry you got here too late, our stockpile of two hundred cheapass $30 DVD players is now out.  You're right, your xmas is now ruined because you can't spend $50 on a different one. Sorry you weren't here to punch someone's lights out to get it when we opened at 5am 4am 2am 8pm last night.
  • Post-Thanksgiving weekend: Waste the whole weekend putting up crappy scented candles, lights, tinsel, and other fluff that you'll gripe about not getting put up right.  Enjoy the wintery cold putting up shit outside.
  • Early December: More retail sales with ads printed back in October, which shows that same cheap merchandise and more griping about the inventory fairy not being able to magically summon that backordered-since-Black-Friday cheap-ass gift (once again ruining the holiday). Merry xmas vs. happy holidays and "Jesus is the reason for the season" crap (hint- he was born in May or August, depending on the source, and the holiday was moved to make it easier to convert pagans to christianity by following a holiday with similar themes). Waste half the day in schools getting ready for crappy holiday pageants filled with about five kids that can sing and 85 that can't.
  • Xmas week: No, we still don't have that cheapass gift. Or half the rest of our store inventory. Yes, it's our fault your holiday is ruined because you didn't go shopping until now. Quit bitching and rush off to the kiddies dressed uncomfortably and singing horribly- we know yours is one of the five that can sing spectacularly, so you shouldn't miss it.
  • Xmas eve day: Get up at the ass-crack of dawn to clean everything... after all, xmas would be totally ruined if the baseboards had spider webs! Run around in a frenzy half the day worrying about the two or three hours you're going to spend with friends later. Light the crappy-smelling candles to soak the house in a mixture of scents that leave the house smelling like the hallway of an apartment complex. Go to work and listen to more complaining about the shelves being bare and lines being long because you waited until every other store in a three-county radius was closed to try to do your holiday shopping.
  • Xmas eve night: Invite over people you were complaining about the day before for the holiday festivities. Overstay welcome so others can't get to sleep at a decent hour for early-morning festivities the next day.
  • Xmas day: Wake up early and look at all the pretties you got! You can't use them, though... gotta go to other holiday events first. Try and find room to enjoy the one gift you like (or take a nap once older) among the rest of the family that wants to do the same thing. Once the festivities have calmed, forget trying to do anything to escape or unwind, cuz everything's closed. Oh yeah, and remember that holiday pay you usually got? Because it's a Sunday, this is now a religious holday- you don't get paid anything... lucky you for working this year!
  • December 26 and beyond: More retail greed for the day after Xmas now, and for some reason the shelves are still bare. Obviously shipping companies and retail workers were supposed to be working on xmas so you could exchange one of the two cheapass 30 dollar DVD players you got towards something you really wanted.
  • Some time mid-January: Pick a blistering cold, windy, snowy weekend day removing the holiday decorations you put up. Bring the now-broken second cheap-ass 30 dollar DVD player back to the wrong store, and don't believe the employees that tell you it's another store's in-house brand. Go to that store with a bad attitude and complain about only getting 30 dollars for your broken cheap-ass DVD player that is currently $45, because you trashed the gift receipt.
So, what's the reason to enjoy this season again?

Aug 17, 2012

RaiderZ closed beta impressions (and a few points between)

I found Raptr somewhere, and joined it. It tracks gaming and achievements across all gaming platforms, shows how well you're doing vs. friends, and various other fun stuff. It also apparently just started a Rewards section, where you can earn game rewards by getting certain levels/achievements in other games. (For example, I can get the PC version of Zuma free because I've gotten enough achievements on the XBLA version.)

I'd heard mention of RaiderZ elsewhere, but a free RaiderZ closed beta key was one of the rewards for having played enough RPG games on Raptr. So, I decided to redeem it and give RaiderZ a try.

The game started with two small gripes. One is that the launcher window runs an IE frame within it. If you don't run IE as your default browser, espec if you haven't run it at all, there's errors with updates because IE is trying to run the "Welcome to Internet Explorer!" dialogs. (Fortunately, I didn't hit this error, but it just seems like it's executed in a bad way.) Second gripe is that your data (or at least password) is not validated after you click login, but after you choose your server. I'm not keen on data stored twice or a second click before finding out my password is incorrect.

Anyway, there are a lot of comparisons to TERA. I didn't play it, so I can't make comparisons there, but I can say I got a major feeling of WoW except with an active battle system. That's not quite perfect, but gives a good reference, I suppose.

Talent trees determine your class ("style"). You pick a style (defender, berserker, cleric, or sorceror) to start with, and the first ten levels are in that style. After that point, you gain mastery in that style and the ability to spend talents in other style's trees. Start as a sorceror and level up enough to spend a few points in a warrior class to unlock the ability to wear chainmail as a sorceror, if you want. The styles seem somewhat varied, but also limited; the sorceror talents focus on fire and ice, and a few abilities based on using both together; cleric seems to focus half on healing and half on damage; and some style talents disable another style's abilities in what seems like a PvP-centric focus.

The main quest line is spiced up by a number of areas that phase based on where you are in the storyline. There's a handful of cutscenes for some major events as well. Side quests are common fare- fetch X items, or go tell something to person Y across town. The conversation dialog even changes to a scroll when dealing with direct quest instructions and in the journal, just like WoW. (This is a shame- I like the other conversation dialogs with a black background and green highlights for important topics.)

Combat is a lot more interactive- you don't just run up to a monster and hit until it's dead. You can block via right-click or dodge in directions by holdhing shift when hitting a movement key. Common monsters generally have a standard attack, which you can block, and a stronger attack, which you can't. The attacks are usually telegraphed, allowing you to roll/dodge out of the way of the stronger attacks, but that doesn't mean you never get caught mid-cast or dodging too late. Different types of enemies have different strategies- wolves will try to circle around to your back, often making them hard to target for long-cast, high-damage spells; hit them enough and they'll howl, leaving them open to an extra attack or two. Archers try to keep their distance, so if you go in close for melee, you won't get many hits before they run away and fire another arrow. Boss fights usually add a lot more hit points and an extra ability or two; for a sorceror, these fights have mostly been "run in a circle and fire spells"- but there's only been two I've been involved in thus far.

There's a basic crafting system that follows level progression. For example, common cloth armor might require cloth and magic sand from low-level enemies. Gain a few levels and you start fighting monsters that drop an uncommon item you also need to make the uncommon armor set that's a few levels higher. Kill the boss in the area and you get four copies of the rare item that's the final component of the rare set that's at the top of the area's level range. There are two features about this system that I particularly like- you can take the recipe(s) for any item(s) you want, which will track each item's components in the quest log, and if you look at a component of the recipe in your journal, the tooltip will suggest where to look for to harvest the component. (This usually isn't necessary- you can probably guess spider webs for the level 10 armor you want will come from the spiders you fight around level 10- but it does help once in a while.)

My only real gripe with the game thus far is the community. There was a wave of "This is just like TERA" and similar whining, but that's dwindled a good bit. A number of players spam duel challenges on anyone that passes by, or spam noisy/annoying socials, or repeatedly click the right-mouse button to block (complete with noise) with no way to block these users. Several people have also forgotten the concept of "beta"- someone found a bug on Saturday morning and wondered why the developers weren't there to fix it immediately; also, when an announcement said the game would be up for 10 hours and then down for the rest of the day (rather than up 24/7 or 24/6 and a day of maintenance), the game was suddenly complete trash and doomed to failure.

Overall, I like it, and hope others will check it out, either through more free closed beta keys (still available on Raptr) or when it heads to open beta in the near future. Find me as Artrimas on Fleetfoot.

Jul 2, 2012

C9 (Continent of the Ninth Seal) Beta impressions

Yet another beta test.  Continent of the Ninth Seal (C9) is an interesting hybrid- it feels like a mix of action RPG with dustings of a FB social game (without the daily limits and corresponding pandering for micropurchases).  Like anything else in the F2P model, it does have those... but it's not rampant like limited-action games.

First issue was the client download.  Found a few different links, either a compressed full-install EXE or four setup files.  Got those installed and removed the stupid social sharing program that was included.  I had applied a key to get a head start to open beta, but when I tried to launch the client, it said it wasn't available until OBT start.  Didn't play with it too much, but waited until the OBT did start... and still got the same issue.  Turns out there was a web link that installed a browser plugin, which updated/passed info to the client.  After that first time on the web launcher, I've been able to start the launcher itself and avoid the web interface.

(Fonts at 1600x1050 were too small, so I'm stuck at 1024x768 on a widescreen monitor.  Not the game's fault, though- my monitor or graphics card doesn't seem to like the other options for 16:9/10 ratios).

There's a few steps to loggin in that seem annoying- pick US vs EU server before game starts, pick world once in game (only one at the moment), choose character, tjhen pick instance.  The chat window overlays the loading screen and is still available, which is an interesting change vs. most laoding screens, but also makes it feel a bit cluttered and busy wit the loading bar and other information on the screen.  That's the only time I can read chat, though- opacity is set a bit too high and so far I can't find an option to change it to read stuff while in town or instance.

The game itself is an interesting mix.  There's cutscenes with text in speech bubbles (which I can't read) and the same text underneath.  Not sure why they go both routes, but I can at least read what's going on, when they use that method.  Other times, it's put in the chat window, which isn't very visible, either.  Haven't found anything that important, though, so not too worried about it.

Talking with key NPCs brings up a nice dialog box, dark background, decent buttons for dialog choices and color-coded quests to accept in a separate panel.  When in town, you can highlight a quest and see a dotted line you can follow to the turn-in point, which is kinda nice.

You leave the town by choosing an instance and a difficulty level (unlocked when you complete a preivous one).  The first few instances (which is as far as I've gotten) take 5 to 10 mins or so to play through.  At first it was doing tutorial quests- both for the game itself (play through this instance on Normal difficulty; now try it on hard, now try it on expert) and for new skills acquired (go to the trainer, learn this skill, go to an instance and use this skill or this combo with said skill).  After a few runs through, I got a few story quests- same instances, but with a purpose (collect loot drops, click an object in the instance, etc.).

Kill the boss at the end of the instanc and you get graded on time, skill, etc., and some random loot rewards based on how well you did.  Then it's back to town to turn in those quests, get new ones, and repeat until you can get to another instance.  (As I said, here's where the social-media-esque feeling shines through- if you went to a screen that said 'blacksmith', 'store', 'trainer', etc. instead of roaming free in a town, you'd swear you were on Facebook.)

Combat is decent; levels come quickish and grant you new abilities.  Skill choices seem pretty linear at the start, especially when you want to follow the tutorial quests that tell you what skill to pick up and use next.  There is an extensive in-game help system that even includes movies of your combat moves in action, which is pretty unique. 

Loot drops in the instances are pretty rare, at least at my low levels.  I probably got 3 or so pieces for another class for every piece I got for my class.  Almost all of this was via quest rewards and not mob drops.  There's a crafting system to make more, with pretty standard fare (metalsmith, woodsmith, alchemy, cook, etc.).  Disassemble items for components, combine components... standard fare.

(Crafting did bring about one small issue- armor information doens't include type.  I chose Metalsmith for my profession, so I'll definitely have weapons... but can a warrior-mage wear metal armors in this game, or should I have gone with a lighter armor crafting choice?)

Since Guild Wars 2 won't be out 'til August 28th, it looks like this might hold me for a few weeks.  Especially under free-to-play model, sure doesn't hurt to check it out.

May 21, 2012

Torchlight 2 (and another Diablo 3 comparison)

I managed to get signed up just in time (few days prior) for a Torchlight II beta/stress-test weekend. So, looks like I can continue the thread of Diablo-like games for another round.
Not sure why this was a stress test- you could only set games to host 6-8ish max players. Could only do internet-based games, but it was easy enough to set to friends-only and/or password protect and that kept things quiet for solo gaming. Lots of games going over the weekend, though, and no problems joining a few. I guess maybe the host listing info might a problem, but it wasn't.
So, more general commentary:
  • Three skill trees, with skill points each level and two or three choices in each tree for a range of 5 or 6 levels. Lots of choices for customization, including some passive abilities and some active ones. Mix & match, too- you could pick a second tier skill from any that were available- you didn't have to unlock X points in tier 1 in a section to get those tier 2 skills, so you could definitely customize any way you wanted.
  • You REALLY feel the fighting, both when hitting enemies (a crit kill leaves a nice burst of blood) and being pounded by enemies, too. Smashing urns/etc. feel like a very satisfying smash.
  • Definitely not a push-over. I died several times on Normal difficulty, even playing a smashy-smashy character. Took some getting used to dodging the heavy attacks from mobs, but still difficult. I like the option of paying more to spawn nearby or choosing to go back to beginning of level or back to town for cheaper/no costs.
  • There were a number of swarms- usually with a few boss mobs; got surrounded more than once, and that almost always meant death. Eventually got an ability to shadow-step through mobs and heal on damage dealt, which did help, but was still a battle. These rarely offered any reward- not even gold.
    /The first main boss summoned mobs at several points. After dying to the boss, it waited at the transfer point, so it was very hard to get out of the mob alive to be able to go back to kiting or whatever other strategy.
UI commentary:
  • Biggest confusion comes from the slight tweak to the usual RPG item progression- grey>white>>blue>green>gold . Got my qualities confused a few times there. Also, same dark blue for stat text... why? So many other colors that would be more visible on a black background.
  • The game has built-in loot settings as menu options- you can set, for example, white items to not show to be picked up. Always wanted the gold, but nice to e able to blank out stuff I might not want.
  • No gamma control and the default setting was a bit bright. There was a radius of brightness around the character (edges of screen were darker). Managed to calm a bit of it down by turning off bloom, but still took a while to get used to.
  • Cursor was very small and I lost where it was several times. Small buttons for pet and character tabs on the sides of the screen; if I moused over too far, I'd open them on accident, especially in the heat of battle.
  • Hotkeys were listed in most places ( Skills (S) ), but weapon and secondary combat slots both had dual quickslots to change, and no indication of what the commands were for these. I've also gotten spoiled with separate hotkeys for potions- in this case, they take up space on the hotbar.
It's pretty obvious (just like with the first) that some of the Diablo team was involved. This feels more like what Diablo 3 should've been, and at a third the price (including a copy of the original Torchlight), it's such a shame that D3 got so much more attention. Guild Wars 2 is a little different experience, this is more the Diablo III experience the way I want it. I'll probably toss my money at it, though I don't know how often/when I'll play one vs. the other. Hopefully a few others will join in and it could make for an interesting multiplayer diversion at some point.

Apr 29, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions (and Diablo III beta comparison)

Pre-purchased Guild Wars 2 a few weeks ago, and this was the first of the three beta events. So, here's impressions.

No real notes on install- entire download/game was a single .exe that downloaded a single 13 gb .dat file- very portable and easy to move. No idea if/where anything is saved (can't find anything in appdata, etc), but if the end game is like that, well, more power to 'em....

So, on to game impressions!
  • I tried Charr thief (primary), Human warrior, and Charr elementalist. The introductions pretty much played out the same way- thrown into the fray, fight some regular stuff, keep going, fight some more, then fight a big boss. Two of the three times in the boss fight, I was downed (but not killed) in the first hit, and the third I managed to avoid it until almost the end of the fight.
  • There was a definite lack of training/introduction- there was the typical MMO popup helps ("Move with the WASD keys!"), but you pretty much start fighting right away and don't really get time to understand your skills/etc. It IS an open/active world, though- I guess it's hard to do this differently. Didn't mix well with the speed of the intro, though.
  • I started w/ Charr Thief, did a few things in the low-level area, then went to the main Charr hub, the Black Citadel. Very hard to navigate and get used to (worse than The Exodar was when I first made a draenei)- it's what made me start my other characters. Spent a few hours trying to find where to continue the main story quest before giving up and going back to Ashford.
  • Melee does just as much damage as ranged and needs to be close to take more damage in fights. Ranged can get into fights from furher away- in one-on-one, it's probably balanced, in group fights it's hard for melee to keep up w/o teleport-to-target type skills.
  • One skill point earned each level and a handful of skill points available on map events. Skill abilities seemed balanced for skill points, but many skills (at least for thief) seemed somewhat generic, and a few missing- you hide in shadows to heal and can lose aggro when you do it, and you can shadowstep to hop from one spot to another w/o detection, but really, no backstab or sneak?
  • Better crafting system w/ limited-use tools and components > parts > specific armor pieces. Not sure on progression (nothing indicated) or pieces at higher levels.
User interface wasn't too dramatic:
  • Lots of white backgrounds in the beginning- launcher and login screen in particular. The panels during creation and once in game had various dark background and white text, so not too horrible, but they also tossed in some transparency that would've been nice to choose to remove.
  • Options include UI scale to make stuff bigger. I didn't notice a difference, though. Text was mostly legible, except for more bright-red for inventory info that was a little hard to read.
  • I had to use pisto (follow the bullet path) to find mobs in several instances- more contrast for mobs in general (and particularly targeted mob) would be nice.
Overall, as I expected with my Diablo III beta post, I'm definitely happier with this choice over Diablo III. I want to check out more race and class combos (hopefully with a better capital layout than the Black Citadel) and get to the new content. The dynamic events kept things active and kept grind to a minimum. The game has a buy-with-real-money system but it doesn't feel intrusive or unbalancing, and there's so much content that already exists- it doesn't feel like it's built specificly for later expansion packs out of the gate. It's tougher, and takes work- it's not just tank-and-spank, you get downed a lot, you do have to manage money on item repairs (and inventory space unless you spent some time farming materials or extra cash)... but I think it's going to be a lot more enjoyable.

Apr 22, 2012

Diablo III Open Beta thoughts

So, found out about the Diablo III Open Beta this weekend. Several thoughts on it.

Pre-play impressions:
  • Installer doesn't offer installing to a different location; you have to move it yourself. The first time I moved it, I didn't realize it was updating/verifying the new location, thought it was downloading the whole thing again. Really, being able to choose an install location is pretty much a given nowadays.
  • I had client installed at 10:45 and tried to play, and got an error. A quick google search showed me that it was that the beta didn't start until noon PDT so I didn't have access... but could've saved a TON of forum posts if it said access denied instead of just "Cannot connect: Error 3005" or whatever.
It opened at 2pm, and they were stress testing with the millions of peeople that wanted in. Went out for late lunch/early dinner... didn't get in before I left, got home around 5pm or so and then got in fine.

So, on to the gameplay impressions:
  • Loot values seemed a little outta whack in spots. Maybe it was light vs heavy, but torso armor was 12, 13, 15, etc., and then suddenly 48, 51, 53. Shield slot had a similar (though much smaller) jump as well.
  • Magic items, except for one set piece I got off the Skeleton King, were blues and identified. No ID mob or scrolls that I could find to figure out that one unidentified item, but really, I knew it was gonna be better than anything I had. Having most the stuff already identified sorta lost a bit of the "Ooh, magic item!" feel and money management for ID scrolls from D2.
  • Loot drops seemed uncannily programmed to take up JUST enough space in inventory before I completed my objective and was sent back to town. I never heard any message about "my pack is too full" or the like, no inventory management ever necessary. (I did have to Town Portal once (end of second fllor of a three- or four-floor dungeon), but again, it was right at the end of the floor, like it knew I was at a break point to go back before venturing to the next level.
  • Crafting system was mediocre. I got one tooth (never used it) and made a few items, but the 'totally random' effects make it difficult to want to use. (Then again, I had way too much gold, even with upgrading the blacksmith and buying a few items, so salvaging all my blues wasn't a big deal.)
  • Normal difficulty setting was incredibly easy. I didn't die once, and used a whole two heals in the whole time I played- both in the fight against the Skeleton King before I recognized his patterns. I changed my secondary skill back to the first ability instead of my AoE heal because I never used it. (Maybe monk's just that beefy?)
  • No real sense of choice/decision. Each level you got a new ability or rune or whatever, and it was obviously better than what you had before. Only time I ever strayed with what was most recent was to get rid of unneeded AoE heal.
Thoughts on the UI:
  • Item tooltip DPS and AC values were unnecessarily large. 95% of the time I looked at items, I was comparing magical properties- those should use more real estate (and a brighter font). Visuals on elemental damage weapons and stat changes if equipped were nice, though.
  • Text was small in general. Dropping resolution usually helps this, but the game seemed to make sure text stayed the same size no matter what resolution.
  • The fog in the overworld was annoying. I understand it's dark, dreary, forsaken, etc., but it just felt washed-out. Interiors looked nice, though, and weren't too dark (or bright).
I probably spent four to six hours on this first act w/ the one character. Granted I could go back and do it with the other few choices, but it feels very bare on content and overall value. Even if there were eight more acts at same length (or four to five of increasing length), that still doesn't equate to much content by today's standards. I didn't find the usual nonessential dungons with a few floors' worth of loot- only a few cellars and "Sorry, your king is in another crypt" sections. I uninstalled when I finished the first act- I had no real desire to go back and try a different class or see if there was anything else hiding in the wilderness.

I'll see next weekend, but I'm already pretty convinced I made the riht choice with GW2 instead.