Jaded's Pub

Star Wars Battlefront launches tomorrow. I haven’t pre-ordered it yet, but I’ve come close a few times. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do.

You see in the beta, and during EA Access’s “Early Access” period that started late last week, I’ve found the Walker Assault and Supremacy modes to be really fun, but the rest of the game feels like throw-away content. And I like the meta aspects of SW:Battlefront. Here, at last, is a competitive multiplayer game for the rest of us. The e-jocks hate it because anyone can jump in and have fun. The blasters have no recoil and long ranges which I’m told (by commenters on various posts, so it must be true) makes Battlefront a “no skill” game. To which I say “Good, you e-jocks take your attitudes and go back to COD or where ever is in vogue among your kind.” I almost feel a responsibility to pick the game up just to support this decision.

The modes I love most really capture the feel of Star Wars well, too. I frequently find myself just kind of taking it all in. The first time a Tie-Fighter comes screaming out of the sky, clips an obstacle and spins out of control before crashing in a fiery explosion right in front of your face…well if that doesn’t evoke some kind of a smile you’re just no Star Wars fan.

There’s no voice chat in Battlefront which is another reason the e-jocks hate it, and another reason I love it. I can jump into a game and play and not have to listen to crappy music or racial slurs, or be told how much I suck. I can just have fun and do that thing I do where in my imagination the folks I’m playing with are decent people rather than the awful, awful individuals I usually meet in MP games. (And of course if you WANT to chat with your friends you can just start a Party out of game and chat that way.) With 20 people per team (again, in the 2 modes I like) it’s easy to blend in and just be OK and not wind up at the bottom of the charts and feel like you’re dragging your team down. Usually the people on the bottom just spawned into the game shortly before it ended, anyway. You can pretend to be one of those guys! In any case, the point, for me, is not to win (though I do try). It’s to spend a few minutes experiencing a Star Wars battle from the inside.

But it IS generally “a few minutes.” It’s not a game I find myself playing for hours at a time. I jump in, do a few matches, get my fix and move on to something else. Is that worth $60?

If this was a single player experience it’d be an easy choice: Wait for a sale or something. But if I’m going to play I kind of want to play it while the servers are nice and full and games spawn quickly. Plus with new Star Wars movie out next month, there’s the whole Star Wars fever aspect.

But the other big downside is the crazy-expensive season pass. The base game is $60, the season pass is $50. I wouldn’t care about this except for the fact that Season Pass holders get access to new content 2 weeks ahead of everyone else. That means if you don’t have the season pass and opt to buy DLC, you’re going to be experiencing it for the first time playing against people who’ve spent 2 weeks mastering the nuances of the maps. Since this really ISN’T an e-jock kind of game, that might not be as big of a problem as it sounds. but in general I don’t like how hard they’re trying to motivate us to spend $50 on a season pass of mostly unknown content.

Of course if I just opt to buy the initial game and say no to all DLC, that doesn’t impact me at all.

So pros, cons, confusion. It’d also be easier if I hadn’t purchased so many great games lately. I’m still pretty heavily invested in Fallout 4. If Battlefront had launched last summer I would’ve been all over it. I could wait, but again I kind of want the full server experience (and to not be the one level 1 guy playing with a bunch of level 50 characters).

Maybe I should flip a coin…

So I had an odd thing happen in Fallout 4 and wondered if anyone else has seen this kind of thing. This post will contain minor spoilers for random (I think!?) events.

So I was headed out past Tenpines Bluff for the first time, traveling pretty much directly east. I came to a small cliff and at the bottom was a derailed train. Climbed down and met a woman selling a Brahmin. Bought it and asked her to deliver it to one of my settlements. Started checking out the train and got jumped by some ghouls. My dog and I took care of them in short order. While looting the bodies I heard voices.

I followed them to a small shack and inside were two men, one threatening the other with a gun. Both were named Art and both looked alike. It was the classic sci-fi conundrum of which man was the real dude, and which was the carbon copy. I tried to use my powers of persuasion to de-escalate the situation but failed. (Had I known I was going to have to be persuasive I would’ve slipped into my sequin dress and replaced my welder’s goggles with sexy sunglasses!) In the end I was pretty much forced to attack one of them, which I did. He put up quite a fight but I won. The other Art thanked me and started wandering off but then curiosity got the better of me (me, in this case, referring to the player, not the character) and I attacked the 2nd Art too, already planning to reload my last save game but just curious if I’d be able to tell which was the “real” Art by the corpses. My plan went awry when he killed me, though.

So I loaded the save game I had from Tenpines Bluff and headed in the same direction. Found the same woman selling the same cow and I bought it again. Started searching the train but did NOT get jumped by ghouls this time. Then I noticed Art wandering down the tracks away from the train. I chased after him and tried to talk to him but he said “I just want to be left alone.” and kept going. I went back to the shack where I’d seen the two Arts arguing in my other game and found a corpse…of Art. And a synth core. So I guess this time the real Art took care of the Synth without any help from me (even though I believe I got to the scene a little faster thanks to no ghouls).

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I’m kind of excited about the possibility that the game world kind of chugs along without you, and so depending on when or where you are, or maybe depending on a random number generated when you start or load a game, you’re going to experience difference events in different play-throughs, or the same events in different ways, or… something.

I mean the reality is it’ll be a miracle if I actually finish Fallout 4, but still it’s nice to think that if I do finish it and love it so much I want to play through it a second time, some of my experiences will be different.

Lookin good, General!

If one is to be a general,
one must look the part

Like many other folks, I’ve been playing Fallout 4 this week. By now you’re probably sick to death of blog posts about it. Never let it be said that I shy away from annoying people, so here’s another.

I want to talk about nights in Fallout 4. I’m still early in the game. Level 4 or 5. (I didn’t play Wednesday night so I’m behind everyone.) At my level damn near everything is a danger. There’s an alpha wild mongrel out there that has killed me 3 times already (pro tip: you need to save your game…it’s been so long since I played a game that I needed to save in that I keep forgetting!)

Last night I was working on an early quest, traveling back and forth cross-country. By day the land seems dead aside from the odd killer bug or wild dog or pack of mole rats. But while I was in a building, night fell. Now I had to hike back to Sanctuary in the dark.

I have to say, Bethesda NAILED the night time. It’s not realistically dark, which would be no fun at all. But it’s dark enough that you’ll, for example. see a tree stump in the distance and for a second think it’s a raider. In real-life terms it’s like late dusk, that time when shadows play tricks on your eyes. (In my typically disorganized fashion, I neglected to capture any nighttime screenshots, sorry!)

But even better than the darkness are the lights. If you get up to a high spot during the night and look out over the wilderness you’ll see lots of lights. What are they? I find myself really torn between curiosity and fear. Of course in many cases curiosity won out. Some of the lights are abandoned camp fires (though I’ve been jumped while pawing through these sites looking for valuables when the owner returned from wherever NPCs go), some are camps of raiders. Some are camps of friendlies. And some are just glowing fungus.

I find it really eerie traveling by night in Fallout 4, which seems to be how it should feel.

Of course you can use an “exploit” if you don’t like that feeling. Tapping your VATS button gives you the equivalent of night vision since it’ll highlight any potential targets nearby. I try to resist the urge to use it, but at the same time I’m glad its there for when it’s getting late (in real life) and I just want to finish a quest before bed.

So far I’m really enjoying Fallout 4, which is a nice surprise because I never got very far in Fallout 3, which felt kind of tedious to me. So far Fallout 4 feels a lot more streamlined when it comes to stuff like searching for loot, inventory management and conversations.

Now I just need to find my dog. We were headed for home last night when we stumbled into a camp of raiders. I never even saw them until they started shooting. I had to run, finding enough cover to take a shot every now and then. I killed three or four of them but I was nearly finished myself. I found good cover and ate some food which made me feel better. I started back towards the raiders when a mole rat jumped me, and it wasn’t alone. There were three or four of those ugly creatures and by the time I killed them, I was so turned around I wasn’t sure where the raider camp was. And then I noticed my dog was missing.

I stumbled around in the dark, hoping to find the dog, or the raider camp, or even one of the corpses, but found nothing. Eventually I headed back to Sanctuary, sad and alone. Tomorrow I’ll go searching for my dog. Maybe he returned to the Red Rocket gas station where I first found him.

As of today it’s been one week since I stopped writing for ITworld (last Tuesday in a marathon writing session I banged out 3 posts and scheduled them for the remainder of the week). This change has had quite an impact on me. I’ve caught myself laughing more, being silly more and just, in general, feeling less tense.

Except when I’m not. Basically I’ve traded time-pressure stress for financial stress. I’m not sure how it’s going to feel once that extra check stops coming in so I’ve been fretting about that. But the difference between time stress and money stress (for me at least) is that time stress is constant. I often spent most of my day stressing about what I’d write about next. There was always a new deadline coming. Even when I took time off from the day job, I had the blog to worry about.

Financial stress is actually more intense (because it’s nice to have a home to live in, for example) but I seem able to ‘put it away.’ There’s not much I can do minute-to-minute about money, but I could, in theory, always be writing or researching a blog post. I used to check my RSS reader at least 6-8 times every day in order to keep up, for example.

The end result, so far, is a happier, more relaxed me. I find myself doing the WEIRDEST things. Last night after dinner I sat and read the newspaper. And I mean an actual, made-of-ground-up-wood newspaper. We subscribed to the Sunday paper mostly for the coupons (see above re: financial stress) but I’m finding myself leafing through it and reading about stuff I’d never otherwise read.

In terms of gaming I’m enjoying time-gobbling activities like going for fast lap records in Drive Club. The blogging me never had the patience to drive lap after lap trying to shave a second off my time because it felt like I was wasting precious time. If a game activity didn’t offer constant in-your-face stimulus I would bail on it as too time-consuming. But now I have free time to do things. I no longer have to decide what one thing I’ll do in an evening, there’s time to do several things.

Overall it’s a pretty good feeling, and worth having to cut some corners financially in order to maintain it. As long as we’re safe and warm and can pay stuff like medical bills and buy new shoes every so often, I think I’ll stick to this one job idea. I kind of dig it.

Did you folks read Develop’s interview with Gabe Newell, talking about Steam Machines?

One quote:

“At console price points, we’re going to have machines like Alienware’s, which are faster than today’s consoles,” said Newell. “So the same price point as today, except you get better performance and you’re connected to everything you like about the PC and the internet.”

I’ll take at face value his assertion that the AlienWare Steam Machine is faster than the Xbox One and PS4 (would love to hear opinions on that) but Newell is playing fast and loose with “console price points.” The Alienware starts at $450. The Xbox One and PS4 both start at $350. If my math is correct, that means that Alienware is about 29% more expensive than the consoles. My wallet, at least, says that’s not the same price point.

Of course there’s a lot more to costs here. Maybe you already have a big library of Steam Games, or you’re rubbing your hands greedily thinking of the Steam Holiday Sale. Truth is over the course of a few years a Steam Machine + software will probably end up being cheaper than a console + games (this depends on a lot of personal variables, and how patient you are about waiting for sales).

Newell goes on to talk about “knock(ing) down the barriers that keep PC gaming out of the living room” which is something I heartily approve of. The relatively low cost of Steam Machines should help with that, and the Steam Controller is supposed to help, too. More and more PC games also support traditional gamepads.

But there are still problems. Many Steam games have user interfaces intended to be used from 2 feet away, and trying to use them at typical TV-to-viewer distances (say 8-10′) is tough. If Steam Machines catch on we can hope more developers keep couch-gaming in mind and offer UI options that work from a distance, but we’re not there yet. I think it would help if Steam added some kind of “couch friendly” indicator to its game pages. You know, in the section where it indicates controller support and whether the game has Steam Achievements.

The other big limitation to Steam Machines is Steam. These are Steam Machines, not PC gaming machines. Sure we all love Steam but you’re not going to play World of Warcraft or League of Legends on a Steam Machine since (as far as I can tell anyway, correct me if I’m wrong) those games don’t run on SteamOS or Steam. And it goes without saying you’re not going to play Halo 5 or Destiny on a Steam Machine.

If you’re a PC gamer who just wants to be able to go play some of your game collection on the sofa, a Steam Machine might be a fine solution, but I don’t see Valve convincing many console gamers to exchanging their PS4s or XBox Ones for Steam Machines. The ecosystem just isn’t there yet, in my opinion.

Disclosure: I don’t have a Steam Machine. I went for the bastardized route of the Steam Link and Steam Controller, so I’m streaming games from my PC to the Steam Link. Streaming, I have to admit, injects yet another set of issues into the process. On the other hand going this route means I can (in theory) play games on Steam that only run on Windows, not SteamOS. In practice whenever I try to use the Steam Link, after spending 20-30 minutes of fiddling with Steam Controller settings and trying to find a UI I can see, I just shut everything down and fire up a no-hassle console.

A couple weeks ago I was watching Star Talk (Neil deGrasse Tyson’s show). His guest that night was Bill Clinton. One of the interesting points made (and forgive me, I don’t recall exactly who said what) is that we need more scientists in government, and fewer lawyers. (Lawyer is the most common pre-politics job in congress, apparently.)

The reasoning was that scientists based their views on evidence. They look at the evidence and then form a statement based on it. Lawyers, on the other hand, are trained to work backwards from a goal (e.g. this person is innocent/guilty) and present supporting evidence to bolster their goal and weaken opposing views. Evidence that doesn’t support their goal doesn’t get presented. Yes, this is a huge oversimplification and I don’t want to get into politics here, but it lodged in my brain.

Too often (when blogging) I act like a lawyer rather than a scientist. In other words (purely hypothetical example) I’ll think to myself “I should write a blog post about how the PS4 is a better media streamer than the Xbox One.” When I come up with the idea, I’m assuming it’s true. Then I start gathering data to support my assertion. If I find data that doesn’t support it, it’s really tempting to just kind of push that data aside.

A more scientist-y way to approach a blog post is to ask myself a question: “Which is the better media streamer, the PS4 or the Xbox One?” Then I’d go gather as much data as possible, determine the answer to the best of my abilities, and then write the post, possible changing the question to the answer at that point: “Here’s why the Xbox One is the better media streamer.”

I’m inherently stubborn so once I decide something is true it’s really hard for me to change my mind. That was touched on in the Star Talk episode too. Too often our society views changing our mind as a sign of weakness. (Remember they were talking about politicians.) If a politician says they’re pro-{insert any policy} and then new evidence is presented that causes the politician to change their mind and become anti-{insert that same policy here} then too often the politician is seen as weak, wishy-washy, or not fully committed. In science though (according to the folks on Star Talk!) being willing to change your opinion based on new evidence is seen as a positive thing.

Moving forward I’m going to try to embrace my inner scientist more. To start the posting process by asking a question and then letting the facts answer that question; to base my views on the evidence and data I have available; and finally to be willing to change my opinion based on new/changing evidence.

As a corollary, another thing I need to work on is saying “Thanks” when someone corrects me. Too often when I state something that is incorrect and someone corrects me, my first impulse is to dig for data or a way to spin things so I can still appear to be right. That’s my ego at work. The wiser course of action is 1) confirm that the correction itself is accurate and assuming it is 2) thank the person for making me a tiny bit smarter that day.

Hey if you’re reading this, I want to thank you for being one of the 3 people…. oh wait, that one is a bot. OK I want to thank you for being one of the 2 people to still have Dragonchasers in your RSS feed.

For the past five and a half years (give or take) I’ve been writing a blog at ITworld called The TechnoFile. It’s been an amazing opportunity, but over time Dragonchasers really suffered because of it. For a few years I managed to keep both going, but eventually I started to run out of steam and got to the point where I just didn’t have it in me to write for this blog after finishing my work for that one. I’m not as young as I used to be, you know!

Anyway, this Friday my last post for The TechnoFile will run. Suddenly I’ll have a lot more time in the evenings (that was a side job…I do have a 9-5 full time gig as well) and I’ve been thinking maybe I should try to revive Dragonchasers.

I’m not 100% sure there’s still an audience for gaming-blogs being written by some schmo with no insider info; I kind of feel like social media may have replaced personal blogs. But what the hell, it’s worth a try. I do have a huge list of marketing and PR contacts at this point, though I’m not sure how long they’ll be interested in engaging with me as a solo act. I guess we’ll see.

Even without support, I can go back to rambling about the games I play and whatever else moves me. It’ll be nice to be able to write about anything I like rather than sticking to the (admittedly rather broad) ‘beat’ that I was assigned to at ITworld.

Anyway again, thanks for sticking around. Once posts start rolling out I might ask a favor; I might need some help getting word out and maybe boosting my audience to 4, or even 5 (!) people.

Over the course of the past few days I’ve played the Star Wars Battlefront beta on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. During that time I went from super-excited to huge disappointment and finally to completely conflicted. Here’s why.

The beta offered 3 modes of play: Survival, Drop Zone and Walker Assault. Let’s go through each briefly.

Survival is the only solo/co-op mode in the beta. It’s a pretty simple game where six waves of enemies spawn and attack and you have to kill them. I played it solo and it was pretty easy and not something that would hold my attention for very long. That said, it’s worth noting that the beta had only 6 waves and the full game will have 12, and the beta had only “Normal” difficulty and the full game will have higher difficulty levels. Maybe if the challenge level was higher it’ll be more fun, but I’m not sure. Survival might also be more fun played with someone else; it’s basically “horde mode” which seems popular in other games.

There are two other single player/co-op modes in the final game, Training and Battles. I assume Training is all about Tutorials, but I’m not sure what Battles will offer that Survival didn’t. Hopefully a more in-depth experience.

With the single player content quickly exhausted I headed to the multiplayer mode. The full game will have 7 multiplayer modes but for the demo we had Drop Zone and Walker Assault.

STAR WARS™ Battlefront™ Beta_20151011172303

Multiplayer Mode Select Screen

Drop Zone is 8v8 PVP that plays very much like any other FPS’s competitive mode. It’s fast-paced, short sight distances, cramped and definitely favors quick players that can snap-off headshots regularly. I hated it. I mean, I REALLY hated it. (I also hate this kind of mode in every other FPS in the world.) If you want Stars Wars flavored Call of Duty MP, I guess Drop Zone is for you.

And to be clear, I’m not saying it was bad; my distaste for this kind of gameplay means I can’t even judge a good game from bad in this genre. I’m just saying for me it was terrible and it dashed all my hopes for Star Wars Battlefront. In fact I deleted the beta after playing a few rounds and coming away frustrated and angry.

A friend convinced me to try Walker Assualt. EA does itself a disservice here. If you try to jump right into Walker Assault you’re told you should earn a few levels in Drop Zone first, and that’s what I’d done. For my second attempt at Battlefront I jumped right in Walker Assault at level 1.

And wow, what a difference. I found Walker Assault to be super fun. It is based on the classic “Empire assault on the rebel base on Hoth” scenario. It’s a 20v20 mode with lots of terrain to cover, lots of power-ups, and many many epic moments. Each player spawns as a generic Storm Trooper or Rebel (you can customize your weapon loadout as you gain levels and credits) but via the power-ups strewn across the battlefield you can take control of an AT-ST, the guns in an AT-AT, a Tie Fighter, X-Wing, A-Wing and more. You can also become a hero (Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader depending on your side) and there are more subtle power-ups like Smart Rockets, mini Shield Generators and so on.

The Rebels need to activate a couple of uplinks so that Y-Wings will spawn and bomb a couple of AT-AT’s that are lumbering across the battlefield. Once the Y-Wings hit the AT-ATs they’ll become vulnerable for a few moments, at which time the Rebels have to unload on them. If you’re really good you can pilot a snow speeder and do the harpoon/tow cable “trip-the-walker” move from the movies. The Empire basically just has to prevent the Rebels from destroying the AT-ATs. Eventually they’ll get in range of the shield generator, destroy it and win. The Rebels win if both AT-ATs are destroyed.

There’s a lot to do in this mission even for old guys like me who don’t have the reflexes to compete in games like Drop Zone. I spent a lot of time Activating or De-Activating Uplinks (depending on which side I was on, teams switch sides after every round) or sneaking behind enemy lines to snipe soldiers from unexpected directions.

The scenario has taken some flack for being unbalanced and it is, but it seemed less so on Sunday than it did on Friday, as by Sunday Rebel players had learned what to do. If everyone spawns in and walks away from their gaming consoles the Empire will win, so the burden is really on the Rebels to put up a good fight.

The thing is I never cared if I won or lost. I was IN the Battle For Hoth! That was amazing. Watching X-Wings and Tie Fighters duke it out, seeing walkers stumble and fall, the sky full of blaster fire. It was awesome. You die constantly but there’s no real penalty for doing so, again replicating the ‘cannon fodder’ style of combat we see in the movies. There are hundreds of troops involved in the battle and the game reflects that by giving us immediate respawns with no penalties.

Anyway, so Walker Assault almost sold me on the game except…. it’s not something I played for hours. I’d generally play 2-3 matches and have my fill and go do something else. A few hours later I’d get the itch and come back to play more.

It worries me a little that “Walker Assault” is the name of a “Mode” since it makes me think this might be the only large scale 20v20 battle in the game.

The multiplayer modes not in the beta are still a mystery. “Fighter Squadron” is space combat, I’m fairly sure. But “Supremacy,” “Blast,” “Cargo,” and “Droid Run” all sound pretty vague. If each of them is a single map in the same way “Walker Assault” is then there’s not a ton of content in the game.

And if they are all 8v8 games played on small maps then I have no interest in them. They could have 100 8v8 frenetic headshot-fests and it’d mean nothing to me.

If Star Wars Battlefront had half a dozen missions with the scope and scale of Walker Assault I’d be all over it. But having 3 modes to sample and finding 2 of them are throw-aways makes me nervous. I don’t want to pay $60 to just play Walker Assault over and over and over.

Also, anyone could play the beta for free and there were only 2 MP modes to choose from. Every time I played Walker Assault I got into a game almost instantly. But when the game is $60 (so presumably, there are fewer people playing) and there’re 7 MP modes to choose from, I wonder how long it’ll take to get a 40-person match together. We won’t know that until after launch. Also the beta was limited to level 5. I don’t know what the cap in the final game will be but hopefully level 1 people won’t get tossed in with 39 level 20s.

Basically the beta weekend left me with a bunch of new questions. I want to know if there’s anything more interesting than fighting waves of enemies to do solo. And I want to know if there are more large scale MP maps to play on. So for me, the game is in the “wait and see” category. Once it’s out and we get reports on the other modes and how well MP is working, I might buy.

Here’re a couple of short clips I captured over the weekend. The first 2 are from the PS4 version, the others from Xbox One

Mon_Jul_6_23-02-34_EDT_2015When Destiny came out last September I picked it up on the PS4 and had a grand old time leveling my Hunter from 1 to 20. Then I hit the Light system.

For those who don’t play, you level 1-20 in Destiny like you do in any MMO; gaining experience from killing baddies and finishing quests. Once you hit level 20 a new system, the Light system, kicks in. Basically it’s like hitting cap in an MMO and having your gear score on display. Different bits of gear, starting at 20, have a light attribute, and the more Light you have equipped, the higher your displayed level is.

I played for a couple of weeks after hitting 20 and I think I made 2 levels in that time, finishing at level 22. I mostly play solo and so mostly counted on random drops and I just wasn’t lucky. So I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and drifted away.

A few weeks ago I bought a copy of Destiny for the Xbox One and have once again been enjoying leveling a Titan from 1 to 20. But things were different with this character. First of all, he got some “Strange Coins” (a special type of currency) in the (in-game) mail; some kind of promotion from Bungie I guess. I was able to spend those to get a level 20 gold (Legendary) helmet that had a high Light attribute. As soon as I clicked over to level 20, I donned this helmet and my level jumped to 22.

Then a few hours later I was cheesing some Bounty Quests by picking on really low level bad guys. I was doing a level 3 mission (at level 22) and a random mob dropped a “blue” item (item rarity in Destiny goes white – green – blue – purple – gold) that has a pretty large light level. I put that on and I was level 24.

So over the course of a couple hours I made more progress than I made in a few weeks on my PS4 character, and the difference was the Random Number Generator. I mean seriously, the mission I was doing was so easy I was punching everything to death rather than shooting stuff, and I got a bit of gear worth 2 levels. I didn’t feel in any way like I ‘earned’ that gear or those levels.

OTOH on the PS4 I felt like I couldn’t make any progress at all, because I was less lucky there. I actually logged in my PS4 character because I figured he too had Strange Coins waiting in the mail. And he did, but the Vendor didn’t have anything he could both afford and could use. So again, the RNG foiled me.

The good news is we’re a few weeks from The Taken King, where the level cap will be raised to 40 and you’ll level up to it the old fashioned way, gaining experience from quests and killing mobs. They’ve also promised tweaks to the random stuff so you’re more likely to get gear you can use. The Light system will still determine your power, but as you get higher levels you’ll get access to higher level gear with more light. At least that’s how I understand it.

I’ve been back in WoW for a week now (though I’m still playing other games too). In that time my level 8 Rogue has gotten to level 23, which means I’ve done Elwynn Forest, Westfall and Redridge.

On one level I’m enjoying the new questlines in these zones. If you haven’t played in many years (like I hadn’t), so far there’s basically been one solid quest line in Westfall and Redridge (I’d done parts of Elwynn years back when I created this character so I kind of re-entered it mid-way through so I’m not sure how much it has changed). A lot of secondary quests have been removed but each zone now tells a little story. A cheesy story, I’ll grant you, but they lead you through the zone along a clear path and at the end all your quests are finished, nice and tidy, and you’re ready for the next zone.

While these quest lines are fun, they make the game even more into a themepark. You take a quest and it leads to the next quest and the next. You might get ‘kill ten rats’ sidequests but you complete them more or less naturally in the course of doing the ‘main’ quest. If you’re not doing dungeon runs (and I’m not) it’s all pretty linear. Whether that’s good or bad depends on how much you like wandering about. Of course I could bounce around and go quest in other low-level zones if I really wanted to change things up.

The overall result, to me, is that WoW feels like a game now, and I remember in the past it feeling like a place. It all feels much sillier, too. There are people riding motorcycles, for one thing. As Bhagpuss talked about the other day, the quests riff off of popular culture. Westfall apparently spoofs CSI, which I didn’t really pick up on since I’ve never watched CSI. But Redridge spoofs Rambo and even though I’ve never seen Rambo-the-movie I’ve certainly seen Rambo-the-character with his red headband, so I got what they were going for there. It all starts feeling pretty modern. Then add in a lot of fart and poop jokes (at least more than I remember) and it starts to feel like it’s aimed at kids, too. Any sense of being in a kind of pseudo-medieval world is long gone. This is a video game, for sure.

That’s not bad, it’s just different. The Azeroth that was my home away from home for a time many years ago is gone. It took a period of adjustment to get past that, but once I did I was OK with it and I’m trying to appreciate this new Azeroth on its own terms.

What I’m really struggling with is the pace of combat. I’ve played too many faster-paced MMOs lately, I guess. My rogue is hoarse from saying “I don’t have enough energy” since I’ve become un-accustomed to letting auto-attack run on its own while I wait for resource meters to refill. I also get a lot of “It’s too far away” messages even though I feel like I have my face pressed against the mob. It’s taking real willpower for me to chill out and let my guy fight on his own while I wait impatiently for the opportunity to DO something.

At the same time, let’s talk about easy mode. I finally died once at level 20 but it was kind of a trap and kind of a bad decision on my part. You have to get a key from a stump in the midst of a pack of sleeping wargs, and I stealthed in and grabbed it. When I grabbed it, stealth broke, the wargs woke up and killed me almost instantly. Aside from this one event I’ve never been close to dying, and some named mods seem to have a self-destruct mechanism, they die so incredibly quickly.

At level 20 I got to learn a riding skill and basic mounts are stupid cheap. 9 silver, maybe? Put it this way, I bought 3 of them just to have some variety. A far cry from the days of scrimping and saving to get a mount! Having a mount is pretty handy though my goodness do these models look terrible when riding. My rogue looks like he’s cut from plywood when he’s on his horse, the model is so stiff and upright. Maybe some day Blizzard can find the time and money to redo the riding animations.

On the other hand, if you want a bag, forget it. I looked on the auction house and bags beyond 8 slots are super expensive for a new character. Like hundreds of gold, when I have 6 gold! Balancing that out is that there are flight paths EVERYWHERE so it’s easy to recall or fly somewhere to sell your junk loot.

I also got my first set of spiky shoulder armor, so now my rogue looks like a proper WoW character. :)

I don’t see myself sticking with WoW for very much longer. It’s been fun seeing how they’ve redone the low level zones, but not really fun enough to spend $15/month to play. I’m a solo player so I won’t be doing dungeons or anything which means most of what I’m paying for I won’t use. There are enough decent F2P games to scratch my solo MMO player itch. That’s not a fault of WoW’s though; that’s just who I am.