Friday, October 29, 2010

All WoW players can preload Cataclysm content

WoW Insider has called attention to a method of preloading Cataclysm content without buying Blizzard's download of the expansion. That method is handy for people like me who have purchased a pre-order of a hard copy of Cataclysm from a local retailer and don't want to pay twice. You can download the content without waiting until launch day on Dec. 7, when the servers may be jammed.

As explained by Wow Insider, the method of preloading is:

1. Make sure World of Warcraft and/or the launcher and background downloader are completely closed.
2. Open up your World of Warcraft folder.
3. Open in Notepad and change the "accountType" line from LK to CT.
4. Open in Notepad and change the "accountType" line from LK to CT.

Then you can start the launcher and download the content (about 700 megabytes) needed for play on Dec. 7.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Champions Online goes free-to-play

Cryptic Studios has decided to offer a free-to-play deal for Champions Online, but with many restrictions, similar to other free-to-play models. Players are divided into Silver (free) members and Gold (paying) members. Silver members have limited access to archetypes, character slots and many other features. Although I have never played this game, it seems you have to pay in order to excel at this game, similar to the free-to-play limits placed on Warhammer Online and Lord of The Rings Online. Cryptic says the free-to-play deal is in beta now, and it will be implemented in the first quarter of 2011.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

First Impressions of Rift: Planes of Telara

Rift: Planes of Telara looks interesting but the proof will be in how it plays, and whether enough players will pay a subscription fee for yet another MMO in the medieval fantasy genre. The similarities to World of Warcraft are pretty obvious. The differences from WoW are subtle but important. The models of characters are much better conceived and more intricate than the WoW models. The landscapes are more in keeping with the dark fantasy ideal than WoW, which strays into futuristic diversions from medieval times. Rift offers much more choice in character talents, with at least four specializations to select after the original class selection. For example, a player selecting Warrior as a class can specialize in at least four different areas: Champion, Reaver, Paladin or Warlord. More specializations are expected before launch. The talent interface is remarkably similar to the WoW interface, but it has more talents that depend on previous selections. The game is now in beta, and is expected to launch in 2011.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

EA Louse takes on Mythic

The EA Louse rant about Mythic and Warhammer Online is a bit hard to swallow in one chunk. It merits reading over and over, then reading all the sometimes vitriolic comments responding to it.

First, the EA Louse is an anonymous soon-to-be-former employee of Mythic, so he or she has an ax to grind. He stands on a thin thread by complaining before he is officially let go. He should be worried that he will be found out before the pink slip arrives. His bridge-burning rant guarantees he is leaving. He is grousing about bosses in a personal way, not necessarily in a professional way. If I were an employer looking for a graphic artist in the gaming industry, I probably would not hire EA Louse because he or she is complaining too much and would end up trying to undermine my company. If you work for a company, you do not necessarily do things that you want, as if you were an artist expressing himself like Vincent Van Gough. An artist can do that if he wants to, but not working for a company. To a certain degree, an artist has to work on a team and do what the project demands, or even what the boss demands. The artist does have a say in what the project is, but if what he wants is not accepted, he has to do as the team wants and not whine about not being able to get his own way. Believe me, I have experienced the same problems working for newspapers all my life. I very seldom get my own way creatively and have learned to stick up for what I feel is right, but I know when to compromise and back down.

Second, Warhammer Online is not dead and is not in danger of dying. Mythic has a following that is larger than many online MMO games. Instead of free-to-play, Mythic offers the "endless free trial" to new or returning players who want to maintain a level cap of 10. At least they can try it out. Mythic has been merging servers until it is down to four in North America, but some online games, like Darkfall or Dawntide, have only one. I am now reading that some players are coming back for the second anniversary of Warhammer's founding. No online game can expect to have as many subscribers as World of Warcraft, or even StarCraft II or Diablo III. If I was in the game business, I would be happy with my successes and not wallow in my failures.

Third, I found that Warhammer Online is an enjoyable, balanced game, and the developers were interested in ironing out the problems as they came up. I admit the PvE content was a bit short because it did not hold much interest for me, but I really enjoyed the PvP instances and the RvR groups. One blogger suggested a third faction, but I don't agree. The rivalry is more intense in the one-on-one factions.

Finally, I could criticize how the game was promoted using the "British guy," who made me think the game was European, but I would come back to Warhammer Online if I could only stop playing World of Warcraft. I can't afford both.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Another Nerf for the Death Penalty

The Death Penalty is one of the most irritating aspects of WoW. At the same time, it is something that may never be completely eliminated from the game, even if I would prefer it that way.

Instead, through the patch system, Blizzard has decided to make it gradually easier to come back to life after death. Not too long ago, Blizzard buffed the player's ghost so that it runs faster, and it added a flying ghost mount to help the player get back to his corpse in some places. In Patch 4.0.1, a new button appears at the top middle of the screen that allows a player's ghost to return to the cemetery. That is handy if a player gets lost while ghost-running to his corpse and decides to bail out, taking the penalty, or try to locate his corpse once again.

The ghost-after-death system has a long history with Blizzard. I heard that some of the early MUD games had the ghost, so, naturally, the developers at Blizzard wanted to create a system for retrieving the player's body after death. I am familiar with the ghost system in Diablo and Diablo 2, where the character is stripped of all of its items unless it gets back to its corpse. If the player is not able to pick up all of the items, then dies again, there are multiple corpses. Hard to believe, but it is true.

When I played Guild Wars, I was relieved to find it had no Death Penalty. No loss of items, no damage to equipment, no loss of gold. The after-death system of Guild Wars is very simple. The character is resurrected at the nearest shrine, ready to play again. There were some problems with that system, but it remains a good system overall. If the character is fighting near a shrine, sometimes it can get caught in a never-ending battle: Impossible to kill the monster and stop the cycle of resurrection, but usually the player can do something to stack the odds in his favor and break the cycle.

I fail to see why there is a Death Penalty at all. While working out my Shaman's abilities after the patch, I died frequently, but I was learning how to play the character after the major content change and got caught by some of the bigger monsters. In the process of learning, I ended up spending quite a bit of gold for repairs. That cost is totally unnecessary, and I do realize it has a lot to do with my style of experimenting on my own without looking up published builds in advance.

Friday, October 15, 2010

WoW Patch 4.0.1

Patch 4.0.1 for World of Warcraft has to be one of the most game-changing patches in a long time. It remains to be seen if it draws more players into the game. So far, the players seem to be sparse because they are still figuring out the new system.

I had more than 30 addons that needed updating after I came back from a short trip, then I encountered the download and installation of the patch, which took about an hour. Paladin talents and skills have all been reworked to include a new dynamic called Holy Power. Some skills build up three tics of Holy Power similar to the Death Knights' runes, then they are expended using another skill. Crusader Strike is available at level 1 to provide another skill through the entire leveling process. Crusader Strike replaces the previous skill of judging Seal of Righteousness that provided some self-healing.

That is just the beginning of the changes. Blessing of Kings and Blessing of Might are the only blessings available, eliminating greater blessings, which is a real blessing. That awkward Pally Power is no longer needed. Pally Power is awkward because it is only useful for one character class, but left a ridiculous spot that had to be moved aside for all other classes. Even after I updated Pally Power, it now does not work correctly, so forget it. The programmers never provided a filtering mechanism to prevent its loading on other character classes. Totem Timers, for instance, loads only for Shamans. Rather than Pally Power, it is much better to use a utility like Healbot that can be used on any healing class, or any class for that matter, to serve as a reminder to refresh certain buffs.

All classes now have a new profession box, a new guild box, and a new talent mechanism.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Leveling without professions

Leveling a character quickly in World of Warcraft is definitely a different occupation than developing professions.

The benefits of professions at the early levels are so lacking that it makes sense to level a character, then level the professions needed for raiding at max level. The time spent developing professions at early levels is better spent on leveling itself, rather than on professions. If the goal is to level as fast as possible, professions are time-wasters, not efficient.

Here are the professions and how they offer little help to characters at early levels:

First Aid: Helps with healing out of combat, but lacks much use in combat, because a hit stops the action of healing. Can be used with a stun skill to heal a bit in combat. Buying or finding food is just as useful for healing out of combat. Totally useless for self-healing classes, and it depends on the availability of cloth, which drops only from humanoids.

Cooking: Offers a small buff, starting at 2 stamina, for better survivability, but it is such a small amount that it doesn't live up to its potential. If you spend the time to level cooking with fishing, it can offer more substantial buffs, but that takes a lot of time, which could be spent grinding for experience.

Fishing: Standing next to water watching a bobber is a time-waster for sure. The only benefit for leveling is to use it to develop cooking.

Skinning: Can produce leather from animal bodies. Leather can be sold on the Auction House or used in crafting professions, especially leatherworking. But the time spent skinning can be performed on alternate characters, leaving a leveling character free to grind.

Mining: Can produce ore and metal bars from nodes. Ore and bars can be sold or used in crafting professions, particularly blacksmithing and engineering. But the time spent mining can be performed on alternate characters, leaving a leveling character free to grind.

Herbalism: Can produce herbs from plants. Herbs can be sold or used in crafting professions, like alchemy and inscription. But the time spent herbing can be performed on alternates.

Blacksmithing: Can make mail and plate armor, but quest rewards and drops tend to be good enough for leveling. Slight improvements for weapon damage can be made through buffs in sharpening stones and weight stones, but the benefits are not all that great. The real benefit is in the upper end, when the blacksmith can make slots for gems. High-end crafted armor and weapons are not better than what can be found in the game.

Jewelcrafting: Can make jewelry at low levels, but quest rewards and drops are better. Can make gems starting at Burning Crusade levels (around character level 60). Gems made at high levels are a lot more valuable and can be a money-maker by selling high-end gems on the Auction House. Jewelcrafter-only gems are valuable for raiding at max level.

Leatherworking: Can make some armor and enhancements, but only high-end enhancements have any value for selling at the Auction House or use for raiding. Value for raiding is less than for other professions.

Inscription: Can make glyphs for any character, but, by design, the scribe can only make a limited number of minor glyphs which might be useful at low character levels. Leveling the profession is done by making major glyphs, while minor glyphs are made by research which has a long cool-down and therefore is time-consuming. A leveling character might as well buy minor glyphs at the Auction House.

Engineering: Has little use for a leveling character, except in making bombs to enhance combat. The crafted items and enhancements have some use at the high end for raiding. The fancy mounts are only cosmetic.

Alchemy: Has little use for a leveling character, except in making potions and elixirs, but the buffs are very small and not necessary for leveling. Health and mana potions do drop from kills, but leveling does not depend on them, given the way the game has been changed as Cataclysm approaches.

Archaeology: The Cataclysm profession has some promise, but the enhancements probably will be the same as previous professions, not offering much benefit to leveling. The greater benefit will probably be for raiding.