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vandal_grimoirI was trolling (in the fishing sense of the word) some gaming forums the other day, reading people’s thoughts about Destiny. One person shared a concern that got me thinking.

His (or her) concern was that the story missions keep sending you back to the same area. In the beta there are 4 or 5 Story Missions and they all take place in what was once Russia near some space-port-ish place. I hadn’t really thought about this, but then I’m an MMO player. If you’re coming to Destiny from a strictly single-player FPS point of view it must be strange. If you’re playing Call of Duty or something similar, (virtually) every single player mission has its own map/level, right?

Destiny story missions are a little more like an MMO. There’s a huge zone to explore and your story mission objectives are scattered around it. You can stumble upon them before you take the mission, in fact. Old Russian is the Elwynn Forest of Destiny. You might encounter the equivalent of Hogger well before someone hires you to take him out.

The only strange thing is that at the end of a Story Mission you beam back to your ship, which is essentially your hub. It’d be like finishing a quest in Elwynn and being teleported back to Goldshire, sort of. When you’re ready to start the next story mission you beam back to Old Russia in the same place you’d started all your other missions. Which *is* a little weird.

I think I get why, though. When you first hit dirtside for a story mission you’re in an open world. You will see other players going about their business. You can ignore them, or help them. No PvP here though. As far as I can ascertain these people aren’t necessarily doing the same story mission as you, and they might even be in ‘free roam’ mode (more on that later). By starting everyone in the same place it means there’s a bigger chance you’ll encounter other players (I assume you can turn this off so as to get a truly single-player experience if you want to).

When you approach the objective of your story mission you hit an area that The Darkness (the game’s ultimate enemy is The Darkness…every time it is mentioned I think of this:

“I’m attacking The Darkness!” LOL
Ahem, anyway….)

So you get near the objective and now you are on your own, unless you’re part of a FireTeam, which is Destiny-speak for Group. Point is you won’t get any help from random players in here. Respawning in the Darkness-controlled area is prevented. If you die you’ll respawn prior to the current encounter, which will be reset. The good news is you keep any experience you gained in previous attempts. The bad news is that any consumables you’ve used will still be gone. Once you accomplish your goals, you get auto-teleported back to your ship (after a brief countdown that lets you gather up any drops that might be laying around).

So that’s story missions. Destiny also offers a ‘free roam’ mode where you just teleport down to the planet and explore. There’re are missions here too. You get them from ‘beacons’ which could just as easily be NPCs with a ! floating over their heads. These missions tend to be pretty easy and just give you a little extra incentive for running around killing bad guys. Once again in free roam mode you’ll encounter random players and in this case you can work together to complete your missions. Really you’re just working together to kill bad guys but as a side-effect of that you’ll complete your free roam missions.

Destiny also has Public Events where some uber boss-type critter will spawn and everyone in the area can swarm it and try to take it down. In the beta at least (which has a level cap of 8) these are pretty straightforward fights, but they’re a lot of fun and the rewards are solid.

There are also Strikes that I haven’t tried yet. These seem to be the Destiny equivalent of instanced dungeons, but I’ll know more once I actually, y’know, play through the one in beta.

I’m really enjoying my time in the beta and am super excited for Destiny to launch so we can level past 8 (sub-classes don’t even kick in until 15 so we know nothing about them) and see other worlds!

If you’ve never known anyone with a gambling addiction you probably don’t think it’s anything serious, but it is. People get so addicted to gambling that they destroy their own lives. It’s a serious issue for people with compulsive personalities.

So what does that have to do with video games? I’m concerned with the increasing use of gambling mechanics in these games. I’m going to use Firefall as an example but many games have similar mechanics which boil down to spending actual money on a chance to get a good prize.

In a blog post Firefall devs teased this cool glider.

CobaltPhoenix

How do you get it? It is an “Epic Reward” that comes from a Red Bean Reward Token. These are tokens you get when you purchase Red Beans in an amount above $20. Of course, just because you have a Red Bean Token doesn’t mean you’ll get that glider. You have a CHANCE to get it. How much of a chance? Since Firefall’s gambling system isn’t regulated they don’t have to tell us. Maybe it’s a 1 in 10 chance. Maybe its 1 in a million.

The bright side is that you DO get the Red Beans you purchase, so in this case the Token is like throwing your business card into a fishbowl at the local deli in order to get a chance at winning a free lunch.

Then there’re these wings:

Celestial
So how do you get these? From Gold Tokens. Gold Tokens are purchased with Red Beans, which in turn are purchased with hard real-life currency. How much do they cost? Well that’s hard to say since Firefall devs try to obfuscate the cost of Red Beans as much as possible. For one example, $20 gets you 168 beans (technically 160 plus 8 bonus beans) which means a bean is 11.9 cents (the more you buy at once, the cheaper they are by a slight amount. Spend $100 and the’re 10.4 cents). A Gold Token costs 30 beans which works out to $3.57.

So you pay your $3.57, pull the arm of the slot machine and get… something crappy. OK spend another $3.57 and try again. Nope, not that time either. What are your chances of getting these wings? Once again, no one but Red5 knows. They don’t have to tell you. I’m going to assume it’s 1 in 4,000,000,000.

Oh, and just to add to the pressure, both of these items are only available for a limited time, so if you really want one, maybe skip making your car payment this month and buy more beans. You can always catch up next month, right? As long as no cool new items are introduced.

samurai_hatOf course you do get something. Unlike ‘traditional’ gambling, everyone is a winner. Of virtual goods that don’t cost the company anything to give you. And much of what you win is the same stuff you could earn by playing the game for 10 minutes. I won this cool (?) samurai helm that I can’t really even see. In my case I bought $20 worth of beans that got me a token which gave me a chance to win the first item above. Instead what I won was 2 Gold Tokens, both of which gave me a chance to win the second item above. It wasn’t my lucky day, though. I got the helm and some other stuff that made such an impression that I’ve already forgotten what it was.

If you DO get what you want, that’s awesome! That’s teaching you a valuable lesson: that gambling is the road to success! This is an especially useful lesson for younger players.

Of course, defenders of gaming will point out that many states have a lottery that is no better. I agree and I don’t think state lotteries are a positive thing. But a)they are at least regulated so you know what your chances are and b)at least part of the money you piss away on them goes to improving conditions for others: school improvements, better highways, or whatever. I think usually that money goes towards public schools.

The odds in these free-to-play gambling systems (and again, Firefall is just one example) all favor the house, and in an MMO the house is the publisher. I’d really like to see these systems go away and have less suspect systems replace them. Just sell items at a fair price and make your money the honest way. Inserting gambling systems into your game just makes you look shifty.

At long last Firefall is launching. I’m not sure exactly how long this game has been in development, but I remember it was playable at the first PAX East which was 4 (?) years ago. The game launches for everyone on July 29th.

In this case, “launch” apparently means “we’ll remove the beta tag and make it available on Steam” and that’s about all.

After all this time in beta and all the huge changes the game has gone through (including one that just happened) I was pretty astonished to learn that they weren’t wiping the slate clean for launch. But they aren’t. That means if you log in on launch day for the first time you’re going to be WAY behind.

To add to that chasm, many (maybe all?) beta testers got in to ‘early access’ yesterday, on the 15th. That’s a two week head-start on any new players that come into the game when it is officially open to all comers.

Now just to be clear, old characters have been changed in some ways. I’d tell you exactly how but it’s been so long since I played the game that it seemed new to me when I logged in, except I was level 8 (or more precisely, my battleframe was level 8) and had an inventory full of stuff and a wallet full of credits.

Now folks who’ve been playing the beta are fine with this. I mean they’ve been playing the beta for YEARS so I can understand why they wouldn’t want their progress wiped. Some have also spent money and of course Red5 can’t just delete things players have spent real money on.

This isn’t the first game that has sold stuff in its cash shop ahead of launch though. Usually what happens is that at launch you get all your store currency credits refunded. After launch you can spend them again on the same stuff, or on different stuff.

So why does this all matter? In a lot of ways it doesn’t. I suppose it means new players should stay away from PvP until they’ve caught up, but there’s plenty of PvE stuff for them to do with their fellow, level-appropriate new players. My biggest concern is the auction houses. Firefall is supposed to have a “robust” player economy but when your brand new players are dumped into a game chock full of filthy-rich long-term beta testers they aren’t going to be able to buy anything on the auction house.

Imagine logging in for the first time on July 29th with the goal of becoming a crafter who supplies other players with gear. Fat chance of that since there’ll be hundreds of players who have already done the (in-game mechanic) research and who can farm materials much faster than you can.

Firefall isn’t the first game to roll open beta into launch with no wipe and in fact the practice is becoming more and more common. I’m singling it out mostly because it has been in beta for such an incredibly long time that the gap between the old-time beta player characters and the new “Hey I saw this new game on Steam” characters is going to be HUGE.

And compounding that, somewhat, is the fact that you only get 1 character slot. That means that if you’re a beta player and want a fresh start (maybe to re-learn how to play) you have to really commit to it by deleting your old character, thus placing yourself in the ghetto that Red5 has created for its new players that will start the game far, far behind on July 29th.

Dchaser~Jul-15-2014~New Eden~1~p1

borked_from_ birthLast week I mentioned how Divinity: Original Sin’s miserly dolling out of levels had me itching to jump into an MMO to level up! After flopping around a bit I’ve settled on Guild Wars 2 as my ‘dabble in’ MMO (for now).

I left Guild Wars 2 mostly because of their event system. For holiday events as well as their Living World stuff, I felt like the developers expected me to schedule my life around playing a game since the opportunities were of such a short duration and (for the Living World stuff) once you missed it, it was gone for good. That’s kinda my “I don’t believe in the game’s principles” reason why I left.

The other reason I left was a self-inflicted wound. (This wasn’t really obvious to me until this weekend when I went back.) I was trying to do crafting and my crafting alt needed these rare low-level drops. In order to maximize my chance for getting those, I was doing nothing but the low-level zones, trying to get 100% completion in each one before moving on to the other. So I was in my 30′s but doing level 1-15 zones (downscaled) and ignoring the “My Story” narrative stuff. I remember being adamant that I wouldn’t buy the materials I needed from the Auction House because that was ‘cheating.’ What evs, me-from-the-past!

Anyway back to the present. With Living World Season 2 the Guild Wars team is doing things differently. While it’s still probably most rewarding to do the season 2 content as it arrives, you will be able to replay it after the fact. That was enough to snag my interest. If I fault a game developer for doing things one way, and then they change things, I feel like it’s only fair that you give them another chance.

The first thing I did was log into my Guardian, who was sitting at level 40. Holy smokes, lots of things have changed (and/or been forgotten by me) since I last played. Currencies are all now account-wide (I think that’s new?) as are dye unlocks. There’s a new wardrobe system and transmute ‘charges’ are also account-wide, and there’s a magic find stat that, again, is now account wide. I had a bunch of inventory stuff that had been converted and in general my bags, both character and bank, were STUFFED full of stuff I didn’t know what to do with.

So I logged right back out and created a new character, a Necromancer. LOL With empty bags and a light heart, I started to play as a noob and immediately started having fun. Rather than chase map completion I was leveling just enough to take on the next chapter of my story at an even level. When I had questions I turned to twitter and got a ton of good advice from friends.

After 7 or 8 levels I was ready to face the Guardian again. I spent a good chunk of time over the weekend clearing out inventory, salvaging a ton of stuff, crafting up extra bags for my alts (I have, um, 7 characters, only 1 above level 15) and even deleting stuff (I had character-bound stuff for characters I’d deleted clogging up my bank.)

Finally I had things under control and headed out to see the world. And my goodness how things have changed! Lion’s Arch has been destroyed. Divinity’s Reach is in good shape with some beautiful new buildings. What caused all this? I had no idea, I wasn’t paying attention while all this was going on and now I regret it. Happily for me, a friend wrote up a recap. Unhappily for you, it’s not in a public post so I can’t share it. :( But you can read the Wiki for a less entertaining version of the story.

I looked up my guardian’s “My Story” and read through the recap to remind myself what was going on, then set about moving it forward. I’m doing level 30 “My Story” content on my level 40 character; that’s how long things have been neglected. Over the course of the weekend I leveled from 40 to 43. I unlocked (just by logging in) the first part of Season 2 but I need to get to 80 before I can take part, but at least I’ll be able to play through a ‘recap’ when I get there.

The only fly in the ointment is my class. Compared to playing the Necromancer, the Guardian feels a little dull. He has high survivability (for now at least) and he’s probably a lot of fun in groups since so many of his skills benefit group members. But playing solo he feels kind of routine and scaled down like he is I can win most 1-on-1 battles by putting his first skill on auto-attack. I’m hoping he’ll get more interesting as I get close to content that is of my true level, and maybe start encountering other players.

He IS fun to play when trying to solo events and other situations were many enemies are incoming at once. I’m guessing I’ll see more such situations as I advance.

I feel like I’m over that “oh crap, how does this all work” hump that you so often encounter when going back to a game after a long time away. I’m having fun, at least for now. We’ll see how long it lasts this time, but hey it’s not costing me anything to play. In fact I kind of feel like I should buy some gems just to support the game since the last time I spent a dime on it was at launch. Opening another bank bag slot wouldn’t be a terrible idea…

Also, I’d forgotten Eir and her totally functional armor. Oh Eir, you’re so dreamy!!!

gw005

Destiny is the next game coming to us (on Sept 9th) from Bungie. I describe it as a mash-up of the loot & level gameplay of Diablo and the shooter mechanics of Halo.

I have a lot of confidence in Bungie; I’ve been playing their games since Marathon came out on the Mac, and Myth: The Fallen Lords is one of my all-time favorites. Then of course there is Halo, which is the only pure shooter franchise where I play through every game.

This summer Bungie is running a beta for Destiny and I think it’s being handled rather poorly, though I’m not sure if the blame should be placed on Bungie, Sony, or both.

This generation Sony has been borrowing a lot of Microsoft’s tactics: going after exclusive content connected to cross-platform third party games. In Destiny’s case they’ve been pushing the fact that Playstation fans get “early access” to the beta.

Now coming from the land of MMOs, when you tell me there’s a beta I figure it’s going to run for a few weeks at least, or a string of weekends, or something along those lines. It’s supposed to be a way to test the game so the developers can make adjustments, right?

Well of course not. That would be a true beta. This is a marketing beta, and now the details are out. The beta “starts” on July 17th on the Playstation platform. I put that in quotes because the 17th is when you can get your key from Bungie.net. You’ll then have to download the client which could take anywhere from a couple to many hours. Assuming you’re an adult with a job and you can’t get this process going until you get home at 6 pm, you probably won’t play much on the 17th.

Once you finally get in, you can play until the 20th. So basically Thursday the 17th is for getting everything set up, then you can play Friday-Sunday. On Monday the 21st the beta comes down for “Maintenance” for two days. On the 23rd (Wednesday) it comes online again and Xbox players can start playing. It runs until that Sunday (the 27th) and that’s it. (There’s some kind of special reward you can earn for logging in on Saturday, the 26th.)

So for all of Sony’s crowing about getting into the beta early, what it really means is you get a weekend to play when Xboxers can’t, and in total you get 8 days (maybe 8 and a half if the download is fast on the 17th) of beta.

Honestly I was expecting the beta to run through the end of August! Again, my MMO background showing through.

We also don’t yet know how much of the game will be there. Bungie and Sony had an “alpha” after E3 that ran for a few days and it only contained a small ‘slice’ of the game with a low level cap. (I’ve already forgotten if it was 8 or 10…something like that.) Hopefully July’s “beta” will contain more of the game and not just be another demo.

Originally we were told that you had to pre-order to get into the ‘beta’ but now I see all kinds of sites giving out keys. That’s bad news because it means once again this is about marketing, not helping to make Destiny a better game. If the beta was just for people interested enough in the game to have pre-ordered then maybe it could have been an actual beta, but now Bungie is going to want to tightly control the experience to get ‘testers’ who haven’t pre-ordered to buy the product.

I think it was Divinity: Original Sin that rekindled my desire to play MMOs. I don’t know what it is about “leveling” that I find so appealing but damn, I love to do it! D:OS has leveling but they’re so miserly in dishing out new levels that it was creating an itch that needed scratching. So where can a person scratch the leveling itch? Pretty much any MMO.

But which one? I’ve been dabbling all week. Re-installed both The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 and dipped my toes in. Last night I went back to The Elder Scrolls Online. I loved this game just a short time ago, but then I had something bad happen to me and had to wrestle with customer support over it. I got my issue resolved but it took a few weeks. Between that and the failed experiment of playing Wildstar my TESO cadence had been shattered.

Part of the resolution of my problem was that Zenimax gifted me an additional month of access, so I’m paid up for something like 60 days of TESO at this point (I’d signed up for the 3 month plan). I figured if I was paying for it I should play it, right?

I logged in and my immediate reaction was joy. I love how realistic TESO is. I love that everyone isn’t wearing technicolor armor fighting bright pink killer teddy bears or whatever. I love the lack of sophomoric humor. I popped open my quest journal and spent some time remembering what I’d been doing. The nice thing about TESO’s limited number of active skills was that I hadn’t forgotten how to play yet (when I go back to EQ2 I spend about 2 hours just remembering what all my 30 or so skills do).

Within just a few minutes I was back out there fighting bad guys. Rolling out of danger, hitting them with a life siphon, then charging back in to send them flying. Combat in TESO just feels SO good. When you stagger an opponent and then wind up for a powerful hit that just knocks them flat it feels SO…DAMNED…GOOD!

But that joy didn’t last. After about an hour I felt like I’d had enough. Somehow the game just wasn’t the same for me, and I’m not sure why. The little annoyances (like managing inventory) were bothering me more than they used to. Combat started to feel rote, quests were feeling stale, and then I started thinking about spamming zone chat with LFG shouts to do the next dungeon and… I just logged out.

When I was in my 20′s and still living in my home town I spent a lot of time in bars. I had my favorites where I knew the bartenders and ‘the gang’ and walking in after a bad day was just uplifting.

A few years after I’d moved out of the area I went back to my home town and visited some of those same bars, and at first it was awesome. Lots of the same bartenders, lots of the same gang, warm welcomes from all. But I never stayed long. Nothing had changed really, except me. I wasn’t ‘connected’ to that world any more, I guess.

I feel the same way about The Elder Scrolls Online I guess. I no longer feel connected to what’s going on. I’ve been away too long. I do think I could re-connect if I just focused on playing for a few days but I’m not really ready to seriously commit to an MMO right now. I just want to dabble. I’m still playing Dragon Age: Origins on the PS3, and once the weekend comes I’ll be back into Divinity (that’s not a weeknight game…it plays too slowly to try to enjoy it in hour-long sessions), and next week the Destiny beta starts up and I’ll be playing that.

It’s a shame to let 60 days of game time run down without playing but that might be what I do, and it’s another good reason not to subscribe to an MMO unless you’re wholly committed to it. (To be fair, I’d convinced myself I WAS wholly committed to TESO when I subscribed.) I think I’ll go back to ‘dabbling’ in Guild Wars 2. Why is that better? I think because I’ve been away so long that it feels ‘new’ and I’m having to re-learn its systems. Sometimes I think I get more enjoyment out of learning about a game than I do from actually playing the game. Maybe that’s way I start so many and finish so few.

Last year at this time I was working three jobs, building a nest egg in preparation for the Holiday 2013 gaming season. With two new consoles coming out I knew I’d need a wad of cash to make it through.

This year things are different. Not only am I not doing that third job, but job #2 feels like it might be winding down. If I end up working only one job it’ll mean money is going to be a lot more tight than it has been, but I’ll have more time for playing games. A conundrum!

This year I plan to take it easy when it comes to buying games, and work a bit on my backlist. I’ve already started doing that to some extent. I recently finally played through Bioshock Infinite and I’m currently working my way through Dragon Age: Origins.

As it stands now, here’re the games I’m planning on getting for the remainder of this year:

In August I’ll be picking up Diablo III for the PS4. I really loved playing Diablo III on the PS3 but as soon as I learned it was coming to PS4 I stopped in order to ‘save’ it. Because I am dumb.

In September it’ll be Destiny on the PS4. That one is already pre-ordered and I even scheduled a couple of PTO days for the launch window. Even if the servers fall down, at least I won’t be working, right? Gotta take PTO somewhere or else I’ll lose it at the end of the year.

Also in September, Forza Horizons 2 for the Xbox One. I missed out on Forza Horizons but everyone I know who played it really enjoyed it, and I’m a fan of driving games that fall somewhere between ‘ridiculously arcade racing’ and ‘simulation.’

Drive Club is coming to the PS4 at some point. I’m going to try the free version before I make a decision on that one. The game has been delayed by almost a year and they still aren’t managing to get weather in for launch. My Spidey-Sense is tingling and I’m afraid it’ll be a huge disappointment.

In October Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive launches for the Xbox One. I’m on the fence with this one. We’ve seen how wacky it all is, but haven’t seen a lot about whether there’s a narrative driving that action or if it’s just all fighting for the sake of fighting, or what. Plus I’m still kind of mad at Insomniac for abandoning the PS4.

Also in October is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I’m going to wait until closer to launch to make a decision on this one. It’s looking good in preview trailers and such but we’ll see how that plays out. Probably would get it for the PS4.

In November we have The Crew from Ubisoft. If Forza Horizons 2 and Drive Club haven’t totally sated my driving appetite I’ll take a look at this one, but I’ll probably be waiting for reviews before taking the plunge. Again, PS4 most likely.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming this holiday season but I’m going to try to resist its charms until I’ve finished Dragon Age I & II. If I’ve done that by the launch of DA:I then I’ll be picking that up, probably on PS4.

Two other games on my ‘maybe’ list are The Golf Club (coming to PS4 this summer I think) and Project Cars. I like a good golf game now and then and I don’t have one on the PS4 so depending on when it launches I’ll pick it up. Project Cars looks good but there are already so many driving games on my list.

So those are the ‘big’ (ie $60) games on my list from now until January 1st. I’m sure I’ll be grabbing the odd $10 and $15 game here and there as well. Plus on both PS4 and XBox One I now get free games each month.

On the PC I’ll be working through my Steam backlog. Steam’s sales have pretty much trained me never to buy a PC game at full price so… I’m starting to dabble in MMOs again but I don’t know of any big launches coming for the rest of this year; on the PC I think it’ll just be business as usual. Y’know, play the backlog until something interesting goes on sale for $10 and then distract myself with that. No more MMO subs for me though, at least for the time being. If I get seriously hooked on an MMO that has a “Premium” kind of sub I might do that, but while I’m just puttering in these games it makes no sense to pay $15/month.

Oh, and Playstation TV is coming this fall and I have one pre-ordered. Mostly I’m getting it so I can play PS4 games on the upstairs TV (via streaming) but it’ll also give me a second chance to look at my Vita library. As much as I love the Vita (and the 3DS) I find that I really prefer playing games on a bigger screen.

So what’s on your list? Am I forgetting anything? I know lots of people are excited about The Sims 4 but I’ll probably wait for a sale for that.

Holiday 2014 is looking a bit quiet, really. So many games have slipped to 2015. I think we’ll have our hands full in February-March 2015!

I’m about 13 hours into Divinity: Original Sin and still can’t decide how I feel about it.

I know how I feel about sub-parts of it. I am over-the-moon in love with the combat system. D:OS uses a classic ‘action point’ based tactical turn-based system that dates back to the original Xcom or perhaps earlier. Each character gets X action points each turn that he or she can use moving, hitting, drinking potions, or whatever. “Left over” action points roll over to the next turn. Positioning matters and characters have what wargamers used to (and maybe still) call “zones of control” around them. A unit moving out of a ZoC takes a free hit from the unit they’re moving away from. Larian has taken this tactical yumminess and amped it up by giving the player all kinds of tools to use. A mage can teleport an explosive barrel into a group of enemies and then an archer can hit it with an arrow to explode it, doing damage to a group of foes and starting fires burning. At that point another character can cast “Rain” to put the fire out, leaving a cloud of steam. From there yet another character can hit the steam with an electric based attack, turning the whole steam cloud into a ball of lightning and doing even MORE damage.

This kind of stuff doesn’t get old, even when you mis-judge things and zap your own party. D:OS has some of the best combat I’ve enjoyed in ages. There’s all kinds of nuance. Gear has a level and a character can equip a weapon of a higher level but it’ll cost more Action Points to hit with it. Archers use more AP to shoot distant targets (it takes them longer to aim, you see). And so on. Lots to explore and lots to love about the combat.

If only there were more of it. Divinity: Original Sin is a rich RPG with a lot of questing, and much of that questing seems to not be combat based. You spend a lot of time walking back and forth across town talking to people, searching for hidden switches, picking pockets, collecting items and solving puzzles. This stuff is all very well done but it can make D:OS feel like an adventure game. There’s nothing wrong with that, UNLESS you’re someone who isn’t fond of adventure games. Who doesn’t love adventure games? This guy right here!

So for me I’ve spent probably 10 hours doing stuff I didn’t love (running back and forth across the starting town talking to NPCs) and 3 hours having the time of my life enjoying the combat.

What makes this all more frustrating is that there are limited opportunities for combat early on. Until you’ve gained a few levels by doing non-combat focused quests, most everything outside the city will mop the floor with you. 13 hours in my party consists of 3 level 4 characters and one still level 3 and things are finally starting to feel manageable in terms of finding good fights.

Another thing I love about Divinity: Original Sin is the character building. You pick a ‘class’ at the start of the game, but really it’s more of a build than a class. Any character can learn anything through the use of the skill points you earn when you level up. So your up-front warrior with his sword and shield could, if we wanted, put a point into Pyromancy and then he could learn a few fire-based spells. Of course you have to balance that with stats…as a warrior he’s probably been putting points into Strength & Constitution and spell damage is based on Intelligence. Plus knowing Pyromancy doesn’t actually give him spells; it opens up the opportunity for him to learn some spells from spell books, which aren’t cheap and early on, gold is hard to come by if you’re playing as “good.” So it’s a deep system that just invites you to create lots of characters and grind some levels and gather gear and skills to see how these characters develop.

Except there’s no grinding here. Mobs don’t respawn and there are no random encounters. This means that combat is always going to be tense, knife-edge affair because the developers know about what level you’re going to be at any spot in the narrative. That’s the good side of not having infinite experience in the game.

But if you want to just have fun swapping out party members and leveling up a bunch of them, you’re going to end up in a world of hurt later on as you run out of encounters you can handle. So even though the Hall of Heroes has a seemingly endless selection of Companions you can hire, smart money is on just making friends via the narrative and sticking with them. And that’s the bad side of a finite number of enemies to fight. (And it’s worth pointing out the quests give you your lion’s share of experience anyway, at least at early levels.)

Of course you could just start a new game, but then you have all these hours of running around talking to NPCs to repeat.

These conflicting feelings (loving the combat and leveling but feeling frustrated I couldn’t enjoy more of each) led me to spend the weekend booting up Divinity, playing for 30 minutes and shutting it down again. Then I’d look at my gaming collection for something else to play, and wind up booting Divinity up again and playing for another half-hour before repeating the process. The exception was when I got into combat, at which point the game would grab me by the throat and drag me in, to the point where Angela would have to ask me a question two or three times before I’d hear her.

The saving grace, of course, is The Divinity Engine — the toolkit that comes with the game. I’m not sure exactly how this works but I’m hoping it’ll be like Skyrim where clever people can create mods that add content to the main campaign, giving us more combat options and the ability to grow lots of hirelings into fierce heroes.

The other day the devs of a free-to-play game I enjoy made a decision that I was pretty uncomfortable with. I’m not going to go into specifics because this isn’t a post about that specific situation.

But as I sat there fuming about this asinine (in my mind anyway) decision, I started to think about what I could do to convey my displeasure. And do you know what I came up with? Not a thing that would make any difference.

I mean sure I could rant here or rant on Twitter and it might make me feel a little better, but since I’m not an Internet Super-Ego it wouldn’t really have any impact on what the company was doing.

The only real leverage we gamers have is to vote with our dollars, and even then it’s pretty trivial. We can stop subscribing to a game and/or vow not to buy the next game from that publisher.

But this was a free-to-play game. I didn’t even have that tiny leverage. The only thing I could really do is stop playing and deprive them of one player, and I’m pretty comfortable saying they’d never notice that difference amidst the background noise of the constant churn that Free-to-play games ‘enjoy.’ I guess I could vow to never buy anything from their cash shop but that would just mean I was like most of the other players (in any Free-to-play game the majority of players never spend money).

In short, I felt (still feel, really) helpless and frustrated.

Co-incidentally, not too long ago I also had an issue with a subscription-based game. In THAT situation, I had leverage, used it, and got my situation resolved. The company wanted my business. I mattered to them. That alone was enough to make me feel more forgiving towards them, to be honest. Being heard, being made to feel like you matter…that’s important, at least to me.

When was the last time a Free-to-Play game really made you feel like you matter? Probably the last time they were having a cash-shop promotion.

There’s an upside to paying our way. Sure it’s nice to get things for free, but free also means giving up what little leverage we as gamers have.

2014-07-02_00002Yesterday’s post about Divinity: Original Sin was pretty upbeat, but I do have some issues with the game that I wanted to drag out into the light today. Mostly it all boils down to pacing: gameplay can kind of drag at times. Keep in mind we’re still talking from a very early-game point of view (4 hours in).

Last night I played for about 2 hours. I had left my party on the beach where the game starts, after having gone through the tutorial dungeon and spending a bit of time making friends with a clam. It was time to head into town. On the way there I got into a quick fight with some bad guys (being vague for spoiler reasons) and that was the sum total of my combat for that 2 hour session. The rest of the night was talking, opening containers and wandering around.

I bitched a lot about containers when I was talking about Bioshock Infinity and I have the same complaint here. There are endless barrels, vases and crates to open in Cyceal (the first town…hoping I have the name right). Some will have health potions, a handful of gold or even some gear, but most are empty. You can move them too, and sometimes you have to re-arrange a pile of crates to open them all.

The overall pacing of an RPG means opening all these crates is less annoying than it was in Bioshock Infinity, but it does slow things down. Of course you CAN just ignore them, if you want to risk walking past a crate that contains something amazing. (Disclaimer: So far I have NOT found anything amazing in a crate.)

Next let’s talk about NPCs. D:OS is old school in that quests are not called out. You won’t find an NPC with a ! over his head. Instead you have to talk to people to reveal quests. But there are a LOT of people in this town, and most of them do not have quests. In fact most of them have basically the same ‘conversation tree’ (though certain answers vary). I found that talking to everyone (and at the start of the game you’re investigating a murder and part of the quest solution is “talk to townspeople”) really started to get boring and slow me down. I think it would be fine if some of the NPCs were not ‘interactive.’ When you have 3 guards standing around, let two of them just be the strong and silent type and let the third be the chatterbox. Don’t make me run through the same conversation 3 times just to find the 1 question that has a different answer on each guard (and which winds up being more ‘flavor’ than important).

Of course as anyone who plays RPGs knows, coming into a new town is always a little tedious since you know there’ll be many NPCs to sort through. I’m sure once I get out into the wilds this issue will fade away. If I ever get out into the wilds.

Last up is bartering. First let me show you the a typical bartering screenshot (click for full-sized):

2014-07-02_00001

On the left is my inventory and on the right is the NPC’s. In order to sell something to him, I’d drag it from my inventory into the center left pane of the window. Then I’d drag what I want from him into the center right pane. If I wanted gold I’d drag the gold (and often have to split the stack) but I could also trade potions for those pliers he has, for example. On either side of the balance icon is a figure that shows the value of what you’re offering. When you’ve set everything up you click the checkbox and see if the NPC agrees with your deal. You can try to offer things of less value than what he wants, if you like. There are bartering skills and reputation factors that make it easier (or harder) to get a good deal.

It’s a neat system but sometimes you just want to sell your junk and clear up some inventory space, right? There’s no fast way to do that. In my post yesterday commentor The Guilty Party called out issues with the inventory system and after last night I get it. You’ll notice Aethgar has 385 gold, and Cedric the NPC has 7. I can’t get more than 7 from him; he doesn’t have it. But what if he had a magic sword that was worth 500 gold?

Well I could drag my 385 gold in and then try to make up the balance with items, but wait.. Scarlett, the other member of my party, has gold too. But I can’t access it from this window. See the arrows on either side of Aethgar’s name? They’ll switch over to Scarlett but when you do that, any pending trades get zeroed out. So I could barter with Cedric using Aethgar’s inventory, or using Scarlett’s inventory, but I couldn’t combine the two to make a good deal.

What I’d have to do is exit the transaction, move items between my characters until one of them had everything needed for success, then restart the transaction. It’s a major pain in the rear-end that would be made much less painful by letting you access all your characters’ inventories without canceling the in-progress barter. And for that matter, as Guilty Party said, why not just have a common pool of gold. I do get why inventories are separate (carry weight and encumbrance is per character) but for the sake of bartering let us combine our inventories to make a deal.

So these are the issues that are dragging the game down a little. I still have a lot of the town to explore so I fear tonight, too, will be all about talking to NPCs, opening crates, and simply dreaming about the glory of combat.