Bouncing off MMOs

I’m not sure if Belghast of Tales of the Aggronaut came up with the phrase “bouncing off” a game or if he borrowed it, but I heard it first from him so I’m giving him credit. It’s a great phrase so I’m also stealing it. When he says it, I imagine a game as a globe. You can hit the surface of the globe, pass through and immerse yourself in the world of the game, or you can bounce off the atmosphere and leave it behind. I assume that’s generally his meaning, though I never asked him.

Anyway, I just ‘bounced off’ MMOs again. I’ve been focusing pretty much exclusively on single player games for a while, but a couple of weeks ago Skyforge hit the PS4 and I decided to give it a go. I played casually for a week before getting bored, then moved on to trying other MMOs on the console. DCUO lasted a couple nights, then Neverwinter entertained for about a week, then I was back to Elder Scrolls Online for a few days, and now I’ve left the MMO planetary system and sailed off into space, only to splash back down into Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag’s sweet, sweet single player bliss.

It was probably the shortest trip into the MMO-sphere that I’ve ever taken.

Now I live in my cozy little bubble so I’m probably completely off-base, but it seems to me like MMOs are losing traction and not just with me. Maybe it’s just my social media circles? I dunno. But folks who used to talk about playing MMOs now tend to talk about games like Overwatch instead. I think most of my MMO-loving friends still play their MMOs casually, but the genre just doesn’t seem to be as much of a focus as it used to. Maybe it’s just that no big new releases/expansions have hit recently? Just part of a cycle? What do you think, oh anonymous reader? You’re probably exposed to a broader cross-section of gamers than I am. I hope I’m wrong. I LOVE the idea of “virtual worlds” even if I’m not currently playing in one.

Indeed, I’m glad I’m out again. I tried to push my comfort boundaries this time. I PUGged in both Neverwinter and TESO, something I normally don’t do. And honestly both experiences were fine. I didn’t encounter any asshats or anything. But doing group stuff still kind of stresses me out, even when I’m having fun. I play games SLOW. I like to peek into every corner and potter about. In a group I have to move with the group and the pace always feels kind of frantic to me. Each night I PUGged I couldn’t get to sleep later that night, I was so wound up and stressed out. (I’m sure that would go away if I did it more.)

I know I can solo in my MMOs and go at my own pace but eventually you hit that wall where you really need group content to advance, OR you just start to feel like you’re missing out on the coolest content by not doing dungeons/instances.

It’s awesome that there are decent F2P MMOs on console now so when I do get the itch I can dive in for a few days/weeks/months. And though this last dive was brief, it was fairly deep. I spent about $20 on Zen for Neverwinter and signed up for a month of ESO Plus for $15, so my intent was to stick around. But in both cases I just suddenly didn’t want to log in.

There’s a lot of reasons I prefer single player games these days but right now as I’m writing this post the #1 reason is: they end. There’s a TON of games I want to play, but an MMO is forever (not literally but you know what I mean). Curiously, I used to prefer MMOs, even playing them solo, BECAUSE they had no end. So I’ve totally flip-flopped as far as that goes. Even though I’m enjoying Black Flag, I can’t wait to finish it because there’s like 4-5 other games I really want to get into.

SO many awesome games and there’s no sign that new great games are going to stop arriving any time soon. Remember when we use to have “gaming droughts” at certain parts of the year where we’d tackle our backlogs? That’s pretty much a thing of the past, eh? I guess maybe late-spring/early-summer is a little dry but otherwise we’re getting awesome games all year long.

I’m babbling, so I’ll quit for now. I have lots to say about Black Flag but I’ll wait until I’m finished. I know everyone is eager to hear my thoughts on a 4-year old game. LOL.

The Elder Scrolls Online’s New Life Festival

I skipped No Man’s Thursday last night in favor of checking out some of the limited time events I mentioned yesterday. I tried my hand at Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer mode and that went about as well as expected (in other words, it was a disaster). Why can’t game companies do matchmaking right? The match I was in, and I believe it is 5 on 5, my side had two level 1 players (me and another guy) and we were short a man. The other team had 5 guys level 40+ (our other two guys were also 40+). Needless to say we lost, badly. Though honestly I got more kills than I expected to.

Anyway, then I logged into The Elder Scrolls Online to check out the New Life Festival. I’m not sure what to think of it so far. Maybe what I think is that rushing to do these the first day isn’t the best idea. For me, I’ve only explored one of the 3 factions in TESO, and the quest began with an NPC (Brega) deep in the Ebonheart Pact area. So step 1 was riding through three zones trying to find a path the the NPC (there’s probably some way to teleport there but I couldn’t find it). Once you find the main quest giver she sends you off on a series of sub-quests to see how the different people of Tamriel celebrate New Life Festival (which is essentially New Year’s Eve, so no decorated trees or anything).

First quest sent me back to the Daggerfall Covenant lands so I took a wayshrine to where I needed to go and did that. (I had to perform for various crowds… simply push a button in the right place.) Then back to Brega for a box ‘o loot and my next quest. Number 2 took place right near her so that was simple. The next took place along the trail of wayshrines I’d tagged on the way to starting a quest. After that I had to go to Grahtwood. I had no idea where that was but after a bit of scouring the map I saw I could take a boat from Wayrest to Grahtwood, so I did that. The Grahtwood quest actually involved a tad of combat (the earlier ones are basically go somewhere and click a button to perform some task) and the poor mobs barely spawned before they were slaughtered.

After talking to Brega again I was sent to Shadowfen, another place I’d never been. I couldn’t find a shortcut to get there so more riding across zones. For this quest I had to do some fishing, and this is where things got ugly. There’re a couple of areas where you can catch the event fish and the first one was packed!

People were selling the needed fish in chat for large sums of gold. Other people were shouting they wanted to buy fish. And a third faction was cursing out the people selling the fish for ruining a Christmas event (reminder: not a Christmas event) by their greed. I decided to move on to the second spot to fish in. It was much less crowded and after maybe 5 minutes I had the fish I needed. Turned them in and back to Brega who sent me off to Betnikh for some big party. At that point I’d had enough running back and forth for one night so I left the rest for another time.

Each completed sub-quest got you a box of stuff. Some event motifs, some recipes, some silly trinkets like fake swords so you can do a sword swallowing emote, and some materials for making the holiday crafted items. I dunno what happens when you get through all of Bregas stuff. I assume there is one per race so I should have 4 more to do.

Its kind of sad that these events can bring out the worst in people. The folks who need to have EVERYTHING as soon as possible just seem to get crazy at the start of events. I don’t understand why anyone would care if someone was selling those fish. Personally I don’t see the point of buying stuff…I mean catching the silly fish is part of playing the game. But I guess for some people the point is to Have All The Things rather than to play the game. Or possibly they’re crafters who want to have all the motifs so they can sell holiday-themed gear for major amounts of gold.

Anyway, it all kind of turned me off the event. People shouldn’t be getting so angry about a game; games are supposed to be fun.

Also, I watched Tipa streaming some of the Final Fantasy XIV holiday event and from the few minutes I watched (I was at work, shhhhh) it seemed much more narrative-based and much less “OMG GET STUFF NAO!” than the Elder Scrolls one. TESO’s event felt like “OK we wrote some lore about this festival, now let’s dole in out in bite sized chunks via isolated simple quests.” while FF XIV seemed like it was telling the player a story. I’m a little bit jealous of FF XIV players right now.

Elder Scrolls Online’s “One Tamriel” comes soon & I’m still concerned

Zenimax announced that the “One Tamriel” update for The Elder Scrolls Online hits PC on 10/5/16 and consoles on 10/18/16. While a lot of people are excited about the update, I’m a bit more hesitant. I’ve already written about this and had some people disagree with me, pointing at Guild Wars 2 as a game that works the same way and that is successful.

Since that time I’ve spent a lot of time in Wrothgar, one of the DLC packs for TESO that works very much the same way One Tamriel will work, and so far I’m standing by my hesitance.

It was when I hit Wrothgar after playing through the Daggerfall Covenant that my interest in TESO started to wane. I would hit content I couldn’t complete and knew I’d never be able to solo it so I’d just write it off. I mean I already had written off Dungeons, but now I have to write off world bosses and delves too. There’s no more leveling up a bit and going back to try again since there’s essentially no more leveling up. (You’ll still have levels for some reason but will get bolster to 160 Champion Points from whatever level you are.)

So One Tamriel, for the solo player, means less content that you can do. That’s my biggest concern. Maybe once you get more than 160 Champion Points you’ll be able to do it? We’ll see. I’m only to 65 or so Champion Points so far.

A more subtle concern is that I personally kind of enjoy gated content. It feels aspirational to me. I enjoy entering a zone and running deep into it until I am over my head and then backing off, getting stronger, and heading back into that content now that I can tackle it. I also like how monster levels can help guide you through a zone. Now everything is the same level so that goes away as well. In Wrothgar all my quests are the same level and I wind up spending more time running back and forth across the zone than I do playing since there’s no logical grouping of quests based on level any more.

I certainly understand why people who love to group in TESO are excited about the change. You can now play with anyone no matter their level or alliance. I’ve just always enjoyed TESO because it felt like a hybrid of a single player game and an MMO and I have solo’d 99% of the time. One Tamriel feels like they’re pushing harder into MMO territory and de-emphasizing the solo game. That probably makes sense from a business standpoint and I don’t fault them for it; I’m just a little sad.

The one bright spot is that Craglorn is getting a make-over. Currently you need a group to do Craglorn. And when I say need I mean it; there are places where you have to stand on 4 spots concurrently to proceed. Now the story mode of Craglorn will be solo-able so I’ll be able to go and experience that.

I guess that’s the take-away. Solo players will be able to do all the story content in the game and pretty much nothing else. Everything else sounds like it is now scaled to groups.

On the bright side, the re-mastered Skyrim will be out soon and I can get my single player Elder Scrolls fix from that.

Rebuttal: The Elder Scrolls Online is not Guild Wars 2

I’ve had a few people respond to my earlier post saying that having a scaled world works for Guild Wars 2 so it’ll be fine in The Elder Scrolls Online. I’m not so sure, for two main reasons.

First, not everyone likes Guild Wars 2. To me, the scaled world in GW2 makes the game pretty awful. I never felt a satisfying sense of progression in GW2 since I never had that experience of going back to a lower level zone and swatting down enemies that used to own me. I want to feel mighty when I play an MMO, at least some of the time, and I felt about the same at level 80 in GW2 as I did at level 20. Now clearly this is extremely subjective and if you enjoyed GW2 then maybe you’ll like One Tamriel better than you do ‘vanilla’ TESO.

Second has to do with world population. Since GW2 was built from the ground up to be a scaled world, there are systems in place to support that. For example (and forgive me if I get this wrong, I’m going from memory) if you’re on a ‘shard’ with low population in GW2, you’ll be asked if you want to move to a more populated shard. This means there’s almost always other players running around in GW2 so it is rare that you find yourself trying to complete an event solo. When I have had to do GW2 events solo they’ve been tough, but usually my experience was that there was a huge zerg that steam-rolled over content before I even knew what was happening. Bleh.

TESO doesn’t have a similar system. I just finished running through Bangkorai (a 37-43 zone) in TESO and I did probably 80% of the delves (basically mini-dungeons) and 90% of the world bosses solo. I was able to do them because I’d out-leveled the zone, and I had to do them solo because there were no other players around. At the end of my time I headed to the public dungeon and was fortunate to run into one other player and between the two of us we were able to handle things. If it had scaled and we’d needed 4 players I might still be there waiting.

Now of course ZOS could build a system similar to GW2’s that’ll push the existing player base into fewer shards so the world is more densely populated, but then they’d have to tweak mob density as well. And even if they got that all right, it would fundamentally change the nature of the game. One of the reasons I love TESO when I’ve pretty much given up on other MMOs is that ZOS promised that TESO would be a solo-friendly game, and up until now they’ve delivered on that promise. My character is 48 now and has never Grouped, at least insofar as I can recall. And I like that. I like that sometimes I’ll see other players and we can organically work together to take down baddies, but I also love that some days I’ll be in an area where I never see another player and I feel like a true lone wolf out there being a Big Damned Hero to the people.

TESO to me is like a hike through a state park. Lots of time alone, and then when you do encounter other people it’s a delight. GW2 is like walking in a city park. You’re constantly surrounded by people and noise and you’re never alone with your thoughts. I like TESO much more and I hope that One Tamriel doesn’t change the feel of the game too much. But I guess ZOS needs to risk alienating current fans in order to try to bring in new blood. We’ll see how it works out.

So yeah, you might be right that One Tamriel will “work” because GW2 works. But in order to make it work I fear they’re going to have to make some fundamental changes to the game. Damn, comparing TESO to GW2 scares me. “This game you love will be fine when it changes to work like this other game you hate.” That gives me no comfort!!!

Elder Scrolls Online: My concerns with “One Tamriel”

Zenimax Online Studios has announced a new “One Tamriel” system for The Elder Scrolls Online, and most of my friends seem to really like the idea. I’m not as convinced, but before I get into why let’s recap the story so far.

When TESO launched, it was an ambitious game with 3 factions, each having their own content to level through, though there was a main storyline and some guild storylines that were the same for all players. The downside of this design was that not only did you have to make sure you were on the same server as your friends, you needed to be in the same faction, too. The upside is that if you wanted to roll an alt, you could level up a 2nd (and 3rd) character through content that was new to you.

Since launch things have changed a little. Servers collapsed into mega-servers, for one thing. The new DLC/Expansions are the same for all factions, though each faction gets its own instance. Separate but equal. More importantly, recently ZOS let us start forming cross-faction groups for instanced dungeons. Since you really need a group to do instanced dungeons, this was a great change.

Back to One Tameriel; when it launches all these faction-walls get torn down (the one major exception being the PvP areas). The amount of content will stay the same but you’ll be able to go to any faction you like at any point. Aside from role-play concerns, I don’t see any downside to this aspect of One Tamriel.

Now let’s talk about leveling. At launch your journey through TESO was a classic one of leveling-up and moving from zone to zone as you did so. Cap was level 50 and vanilla TESO content leveled you smoothly through all 50 levels, presenting monsters that would challenge you each step of the way. Since then ZOS has tried a few post-50 systems, I guess (I’ve never got that far). Currently once you hit 50 you start earning Champion Points that you can spend to buff your character in various ways. ZOS is using Champion Points almost like a Gear Score to indicate character and monster power.

Dungeons are treated somewhat differently. Dungeons scale in level (with each having a minimum level), and in particular scale to the level of the group leader.

The leveling system presented another barrier to friends playing together, sort of. If I’m level 40 and my friend is level 20 and we group up, content is either going to be trivial for me, or impossible for him. Personally I don’t see this as a big deal and I’m happy to help out lower level friends but some gamers aren’t interested in playing unless they’re getting rewarded.

The DLC was different from vanilla TESO and worked something like dungeons. To make DLC packs of interest to all players, mobs are all max level, and characters get ‘bolstered’ to max level when they enter these areas. So now if I take my level 40 character and my friend brings his level 20 character, we’d both get boosted to max level and earn awards and experience appropriate for our levels. Sounds good, right?

One Tamriel brings this system to the entire world. Every mob in the world (once you get out of the brief tutorial) will be an equal match to a level 50 character with 160 Champion Points (that’s the current max level for mobs). When you leave the tutorial you’ll be bolstered to the equivalent of a level 50/160 CP character and that’s where you’ll stay forever. Of course you won’t have all the skills of a max level character so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that.

Anyway this is the aspect of One Tamriel that I’m not as sure about. My friends, who are casual players of TESO, think it is awesome because they can group up no matter what level they are. That’s true. But I don’t think many of them are thinking about what is going to happen when they’re not grouped. And let’s face it, in practical terms most of us spend a lot of time soloing whether we want to or not.

Under the current system if you find a quest or a world boss or an open dungeon that is too difficult for you, you can just skip it, gain a few levels, then come back and try it again. Maybe your gear isn’t up to snuff. Maybe you’ve put together a feeble build and are still trying to work out the kinks. Maybe it’s content intended for several players (world bosses or dolmens come to mind) but there’s no one around. You can just come back later when you’re more powerful and try again.

As someone who solos a lot, I have had to lean on this system pretty heavily at times. It goes away with One Tamriel. No longer will you be able to skip world bosses and come back and mop the floor with them later. If there aren’t a group of players hanging around, world bosses, open dungeons and dolmens will probably be beyond your ability to solo. The exception will be folks who’ve been playing long enough to get best-in-class gear and who have perfected their builds. But casual players, the ones this system seems to be built for? They’re going to be frustrated. When they don’t have a group, a lot of content is going to be beyond them.

Basically in the same way that casual solo players have to skip dungeons now, they’ll have to skip world bosses, dolmens and public dungeons once One Tamriel hits. As a casual solo player, I’m pretty bummed about this.

Of all the MMOs out there, TESO has been one of the most solo-friendly I’ve played and that’s a big part of why I enjoy it. It’s fun having that single-player story-driven gameplay but in a world where you see other players and do kind of organically help them out. To me its the best of both worlds, but I have to just skip the instanced dungeons. Fortunately for me by the time One Tamriel arrives I’ll be comfortably at cap so it won’t impact me much, but I think we’ll see a lot of casual players return and find that maybe the system isn’t quite as awesome as they’d hoped it would be.

I’m hoping there’s some aspect of this system that I’m not quite getting and that solo players will still be able to progress smoothly through all the content. I guess we’ll find out this Fall.

Elder Scrolls Online: What a difference a bag makes

The Elder Scrolls Online’s latest patch/DLC, The Dark Brotherhood, finally hit consoles this week and what a difference it has made for pack-rat crafter types like me. Why? Craft bags.

So what’s a craft bag? Basically it’s a container that holds all your crafting materials and makes them available to all characters. In other words it works like a bank for crafting materials only you don’t have to go to a bank to use it. And it’ll hold virtually unlimited amounts of stuff (the limit is somewhere in the millions of items).

The only “bad” news is that in order to put stuff into your craft bags, you need to be an ESO Plus Member. I know we all wish everything was free but ZOS has to make money and this seems like a perfect item to put behind a paywall. First, casual players probably have no use for craft bags; if you’re not heavily into crafting there’s no need for it. Second, if you’re playing and using the craft bags and you get distracted by another game you can cancel ESO Plus and still pull materials from your craft bag; you just can’t put more in. So just make a point of stocking up while paying and you’re good.

It’s also worth noting the ESO Plus comes with a monthly stipend of Crowns, and you get roughly (maybe exactly?) as many Crowns for your $15 sub as you’d get by just buying $15 worth of Crowns, so you can look at it that way too.

Anyway so what’s the big deal? My typical ESO play session used to be to adventure on my adventuring character for an hour and then spend 30 minutes muling crafting materials and gear over to my crafter character. I don’t sell gear (unless it has the trait that makes it extra valuable) since I need the crafting experience you get from deconstructing it (as well as the raw materials you get from breaking things down). At this point I have 130 slots in my bank (saving to expand) and 170 slots on my adventuring character (ditto) and I still constantly had inventory problems due to tons of crafting materials and bits of gear I was saving for research.

The The Dark Brotherhood patch hit and that all went away thanks to Craft Bags. I played all Wednesday night and most of Thursday night before my adventurer had to finally hit the bank to unload stuff. Since the bank was almost empty he muled everything over in two batches and my crafter quickly broke down all that gear and gained some levels and materials to do writs.

It just makes a huge difference to me and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Of course there’s also all the new Dark Brotherhood content (which you get free for being in ESO Plus) and a lot of other quality of life updates to the UI. And poisons, which I’ve barely scratched the surface of. I hadn’t gotten a character to Veteran Levels so their removal didn’t impact me much but those are gone too. All in all, seems like a really good patch/update to me.

Pro game streaming: It’s time to move beyond esports

Greetings loyal readers! It’s been quite awhile, eh? I’ve been playing ESO on the consoles almost exclusively for the past few weeks, but nothing worth sharing. Just grinding out crafting writs and working my way through the quest lines. Not blog-post worthy but I’ve been having fun. When not playing I’ve been watching a lot of ESO videos of builds and stuff.

So what does this have to do with esports? Listen I know you all love Twitch and watching people play League of Legends for big cash prizes. I like to watch some LoL from time to time too. I think we’ve established that broadcasting game matches is a Thing that people like.

But now it’s time to move beyond that and expand the offerings on Twitch and the like. What I want to see now are professionally commentated dungeon runs from MMOs. I came to this decision when two vectors crossed in my brain. First, when I haven’t been playing ESO I’ve been re-watching Log Horizon, which is an anime that takes place in an MMO world. I really enjoy the (faked) battle scenes when the gang is doing raids. It’s fun watching them puzzle out how to bring down bosses even though, y’know none of it is real.

And I’ve also been reading JZH Gaming’s blog lately. He posts videos of his ESO dungeon runs. This is the last one I watched:

I like this video for a lot of reasons. First, it’s a speed run so it doesn’t go on for hours. Second, the leader guides the group through the dungeon in a calm way. The rest of the gang also acts like, well, adults. No one is screaming or playing dub step over their mike. It almost feels choreographed and I feel like I’m not only watching a team take on a challenge but I’m learning a bit about this trial, too. Third and much less significantly, this was done on the PS4 version of the game and I have some platform pride over it. There’s this stereotype that console gamers are all potty-mouthed children and it’s cool to see this group overcome these obstacles while maintaining their composure. I wanna be friends with these people!!

But it is hard to hear what the leader is saying at times, plus she’s busy playing so doesn’t have time to elaborate. Which led me to imagine a Twitch channel that had professional commentators who could follow a group through a dungeon and give a kind of play-by-play of what is going on, in the same way that good LoL commentators can help viewers understand the details of a LoL match.

Of course before that could happen, the game developers would have to add some kind of spectator mode so the commentators have the tools to show off what is happening. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could watch a group take on a dugneon boss and flip back and forth between what the tank is doing, and what the healer is doing?

Eh, maybe I’m dreaming. But I think it’d be cool. But until the rest of the world catches up with my brilliance 🙂 I’ll keep watching JZH’s videos and hope he does more runs with this bunch. If you have some favorite dungeon run videos, why not post links in the comments. I’m not looking for “more dots” and Leeroy Jenkins. I’m looking for a team working together “professionally” to get a job done.

I find videos like this kind of inspiring. They make me want to play ESO better.

And now back to The Elder Scrolls Online

No sooner had a snuggled down into the warm embrace of Black Desert Online than my friends got pumped for The Elder Scrolls Online. Well hell, I’m down with that, I love TESO! But one small fly in the ointment…they all wanted to play on Xbox One and I play on PS4.

Once more into the breach! Because I am crazy, I already owned the game on XBox One, but I took advantage of a sale on Crowns to pick up the new Thieves Guild expansion, as well as the older Orsinium expansion.

My only character on XB1 was a level 7 dude that was just a random mash-up of race, class and stat points. My goal now was to get to grouping level (say 12+) ASAP and ideally to catch up with Talyn who was in his low 20s. I decided to roll a Daggerfall Alliance character since I’m nost familiar with that faction, and followed one of Deltia Gaming’s builds (a stamina templar).

At first I felt a slight bit of resentment for “having” to start all over to play with these folks but y’know, I just love TESO and before long I was in love with my new character and enjoying myself all over again. It didn’t hurt that the Xbox One community seems very healthy; there were people all over the place.

One of my favorite aspects of TESO is that it is so group-friendly, and I mean group, not Group. In other words, there’s no kill stealing or anything, so you can and often do find yourself working with another player without any formal announcement that you’re going to do so. That happened to me several times over the weekend when I found I was working on the same questline (apparently) with another player and we just started traveling together. I started hanging back and throwing heals (not that my spec is a dedicated healer) and DOTs and I let the other player(s) lead the charge while I kept them from worrying about their health levels. After some variable amount of time we just drifted in different directions. Never exchanged a word.

That’s my kind of multiplayer gaming, honestly. Sometimes someone will cheer or something (using the emote system) but that’s about it for communication. TESO has proximity voice chat on consoles (no text chat yet) but I find people rarely use it out exploring and mostly just use it to be annoying in towns.

Since I was being pretty determined about leveling I wasn’t constantly over-level for the areas I was in (something that often happens in the game thanks to me roaming around gather crafting materials and stuff) so some of the open world mini-bosses were a real challenge. After dying I’d just hang out and wait for another player or two to come along and I never had to wait long. Again, working together without entering in a Grouping contract. I love it.

Of course in spite of promises to myself not to do so, I started crafting because I am incapable of running past mats without gathering them, or running past a crafting station without poking it.

Anyway it was a good weekend and I ended up somewhere in level 14. We’re tentatively doing our first dungeon next Monday so I’m comfortably prepared for a level 12 dungeon, but it’ll be nice to hit 15 and get the 2nd weapon slot open (bow and dual wield for me).

I haven’t forgotten BDO but it’ll be there when I’m ready for it. That’s one of the joys of subscription-free MMO gaming. You can play when you want without feeling like you’ve wasted your cash. So I’ll continue to be an MMO vagabond and go wherever the winds blow me.

Black Desert Online Day 2: Stuff I’ve learned

I promise I’m not going to write boring blog posts about Black Desert Online every day, but I did want to share some stuff I learned in case any other newbies stumble onto my blog.

1) Thanks to a friend of Stargrace I learned how to disable those annoying ‘banner’ announcements. In settings -> game if you scroll down there’s a big swath of checkboxes for Notifications. These are all “opt-out”; in other words you check the ones you DON’T want to see. I turned off most of them and now instead of seeing constant adverts for in-game stuff I don’t care about, I can see Black Desert Online’s beautiful world.

2) I finally noticed the “Edit UI” option in the main menu. In my defense it doesn’t seem to be there when you’re very low level, but I’m sure I’ve overlooked it a few times. That let me hide that odd palette of suggested key strokes that floats around the middle of the screen.

3) I took the time to write down controller button bindings because they are non-traditional (and yet work well). So for example one of the face buttons is bound to Left Mouse Button, but the left trigger is bound to Right Mouse Button. The right trigger is bound to Shift. Pushing in the left analog stick is the same as hitting the frequently used R key, while pushing in the right stick is Q. And so on. So my Heavy Attack that is performed by pushing both mouse buttons is X+L2 (on an Xbox controller) while I have some kind of shield charge that is Shift-Q which winds up being R2+Right Thumb Depress. It sounds odd but it all works pretty well since the timing isn’t super-precise.

Once I had these bindings written down so I could glance at them to refresh my memory, combat with a controller got really fun. For me, who is primarily a console gamer, fighting in BDO with mouse and keyboard felt like a random button-pressing activity and I didn’t care for it. But fighting with a controller, dancing around enemies and unleashing devastating (well, for level 10) attacks, is super fun.

Next I need to write down my skills and the combos needed to activate them. I still think they throw too many skills at you too quickly and I know I have some I just never use.

At one point last night (and I only actually played for about an hour) I was down to a single quest given to me by the evil black cloud (who has grown an alarming set of teeth) that had me fighting a level 15 mob with a group. I was level 11 and me+groups=avoid at all costs so instead of following the bread crumbs to my inevitable death, I set that quest aside and just wandered around practicing combat. Eventually I wandered into a village and all kinds of things opened up. I now have quests that will teach me about gathering and crafting, I got some storage space, and a bunch of other things I need to play around with next time I’m in game. I also spent my first Contribution Point unlocking (is that what you call it?) a farm that I recognized the name of from reading my friends’ posts. I guess I can grow some taters there.

(I have real problems with place-names in this game for some reason. The first two villages are, I think, Olvia and Velia and for some reason my brain constantly confuses them. So I can’t recall which one I was in, but there was a dock there and I assume lots of AFK fisherfolk.)

So things are coming along. I’m really happy that I tried combat with the controller. It changed the combat system from “Meh” to “OMG SO FUN!” for me. Now I feel like I just want to go hit things with my sword instead of doing all the crafting and farming that I initially signed up for!

Actually playing Black Desert Online

After my self-inflicted morning of pain trying to get Black Desert Online to run via streaming to the Steam Link, I finally got to play the game yesterday afternoon and evening. What a feeling of dj vu I had! Not because BDO is similar to other games, but because my initial reaction was just like that of so many other bloggers. I feel like I could steal someone else’s Day 1 post and paste it here and it would reflect my experience almost perfectly.

I was overwhelmed and kind of confused. The UI was an abstract painting done with letters and symbols splattered across my screen. The combat system confused me (still confuses me) but so far seems redundant anyway since you can just spam attacks and kill early game enemies. There was an evil cloud bossing me around making me feel like I was playing the worst kind of theme park MMO (y’know the kind of game where you never have to make a decision on your own) but it was dragging me through maps strewn with icons that have to mean something to someone.

Honestly if BDO was truly free-to-play AND I hadn’t read a lot of blog posts about it, I might’ve just given up on it. But everyone is now writing about quest logs stuffed full of things to do, and lots and lots of systems that completely ignore quests. I know this stuff is out there but I guess I just haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m only level 10-ish, and you go from level 1 to level 5 in your first 10 minutes or so of playing.

My new character is a warrior, which means (for now at least) sword and board. He’s learned a bunch of combat skills and as best I can figure, some of them get bound to hot keys and others are bound to key-combos. I say ‘as best I figure’ because I haven’t used most of them. Even his most basic attacks are bombastic spectacles of flames and sparks, and early game enemies are tiny woodland creatures. Usually I can’t see them or their health bars and I often keep attacking long after they are dead. Then I loot their corpses, one by one, hitting R to open the corpse and R again to take what is in it. No area loot feels so old-school. It’s like I’m playing BDO on my abacus!

My initial feeling is that combat looks badass but feels pretty trivial, though again, I’m level 10, and anyway I have a zillion MMOs with good combat. I didn’t come to BDO to fight things, I came to become a capitalist or something. I came for the crafting/strategic parts of the game that I know will show up before too long. Combat felt a lot more fun using a controller than the keyboard and I’m glad I have that option.

I did stick a toe into the Amity system since I was kind of at a loss as to what else to do when I got done button-mashing my way through beetles, foxes, wolves and imps. The Amity system is kind of like a CCG only the ‘cards’ are bits of knowledge you find through exploring and talking to people. It seems like something that will be quietly fun once I get a good collection of knowledge to work with.

I also need to use a Contribution Point (which I think came from questing) to unlock a Node. I’ve read a lot about Nodes but for some reason I can’t figure out how/where to go to unlock one. I thought I’d open the map and do it from there but the map intimidates the heck out of me. I need to come to grips with the iconography of it because aside from the icons of people on it, nothing makes a lot of sense to me.

One of my problems is I have no sense of place. You initially spawn into the game in a tiny village (I think it’s tiny), but the tutorial system has you almost immediately ‘auto-run’ to a quest. Surprisingly that quest takes you to the next town/hub/place and since I auto-ran to it I feel a little bit adrift. It’s like the difference between driving to a new place and taking a cab there. In the cab you’re just kind of idly looking out the window and not really paying attention to where you are. There were people in that spawn-in village so I guess at some point I should go back there, if I can figure out where it is. I didn’t take note of the name of the place but I think it’s NW of where I am now (the Western Gate something).

Another goal is figuring out how to turn off the ‘banners’ that pop up across the top of the screen telling me that two guilds I’ve never heard of have gone to war somewhere, or that something is for sale on a market I have no access to, and even more importantly find a way to turn off the random key prompts that constantly tell me I can use Q to sit down (as I’m running through a forest) or that CTRL switches between mouse cursor and movement (something you pretty much have to learn in the first 2 minutes of playing).

Anyway, there’s time. Now that I plunked down my $30 I can play forever without spending another dime if I don’t want to. Coming into it I knew BDO wasn’t going to be a game I mastered in the first day (or the first week or month, for that matter).

Oh! I almost forgot two super-important (to me) details. First, aside from gold spammers, chat has been decent. Not that I pay a lot of attention to it, but when I have glanced at it what I haven’t seen is people flaming each other over nothing. Second when you encounter another player there’s an option called “Intro” or something like that. I peeked at a few of these and twice what I found was an invitation to role-play! That delighted me. Not that I’m much of a role-player myself, but I’m something of a role-play fanboy. I’ll happily skulk around the periphery of an RP session just to hear what folks come up with. Crikey I’d almost forgotten roleplaying existed in MMORPGs, so I was really happy to see that.

This map hurts my brain!
This map hurts my brain!