Monday, November 21, 2011

SWTOR Beta Weekend Impressions

I plan on rolling on the Republic side at Launch, so I rolled on the Sith side for my Weekend Beta. This way I got to experience the classes, but not spoil any of the story. The classes in SWTOR are exact mirrors, so when I play my Sith Warrior, I’m playing the same class as a Jedi Knight. Some of the names and animations of the spells are different, but mechanically they are identical.
Over the weekend, I played a Bounty Hunter, an Imperial Agent and a Sith Warrior. I spent the least amount of time on the Agent. I don’t know if my graphics card wasn’t working right, or I just didn’t understand how cover worked, but I never saw any of the cover icons I had seen in the videos. When I hit cover, my agent simply knelt down. and my action bar changed. The powers available in cover were far more powerful than those available outside of cover, but by the time I had gotten in cover and was ready to attack, some Bounty Hunter came by and shot the guy I was targeting.
The next class I tried was the Bounty Hunter. I had just watched the Trooper versus Agent video and I loved the toolkit the Trooper had. Bounty Hunter is the Trooper's mirror. It took me a while to get used to the Bounty Hunters resource system, called Heat. It’s sort of like Rage in reverse. Most of your attacks generate heat, and once you have filled your heat bar, you can’t use any attack that generates heat until you cool down enough. Heat slowly dissipates over time if you don’t use any heat generating attacks. The bounty hunter combat was fun, but the most impressive thing about the class was the story. The bounty hunter had the best story of any class i played.
I spent most of my playtime with the Sith Warrior and he did not disappoint. The combat system was fun and the most intuitive. The Sith Warrior works on Rage points (Jedi Knights call them Focus points). You have a basic attack that generates Rage points, and stronger attacks that use Rage points. I don’t think you get any rage points for being hit. Rage points carry over from battle to battle but they do slowly dissipate if you aren’t in combat for a while.
The Warrior was the only class that I got far enough in the weekend to get my first companion on, and it was a game changing experience. My companion was very well written. She was at the level of Jaheria, or Imoen, or Bastilla. As you make choices you can see her affection going up or down. I would make a choice and see her affection go down and regret it, and try to make a different choice the next time around. She also provided a Ranged DPS character and helped out with combat.
Companions, story and faithfulness to the IP were definite strengths of SWTOR. Another refreshing change from my recent WoW leveling was that I could over pull and actually die. Taking on mobs of my level was fairly easy, but even one level more than me proved very difficult. I never was in danger of out leveling an area, if anything I almost needed more experience, and grinding random mobs to keep up with where the quests were sending me. The experience point curve feels very tightly balanced.
Of course, not everything was perfect, this is still beta after all. There were  a couple of graphical bugs, and I’m hoping they get fixed before launch, although it was suggested to me that I should update my video card drives. I have an old ATI 4800 series, and for the most part it handled the game well. There was one quest that didn’t trigger, but reloading solved that.
The major design flaw I saw was that Bounty Hunters and Agents both start on the same world, Hutta, while Sith Warriors and Sith Inquisitors both start on Korriban. This could be a problem because if you and friend start the game, and he wants to be a force class and you want a tech class, you won’t be able to adventure together until the early teens. Imagine there was no way to get from Teldrasil to Goldshire, and you rolled a human and wanted to play with a friend who rolled a Night Elf. There wasn’t any way I could find to get from Korriban to Hutta before you get your ship and to do that you have to progress through your class story to at least level 10.
The other issue I was was that because of the load on the servers, they broke into shards, or instances similar to what I saw in Champions Online. So I might be in Korriban-1 while my friend was in Korriban-6. Getting together was a little tricky to figure out at first, but we managed. There is a ridiculously long cool down on changing shards that i really hope gets reduced by the time we go live.
I didn’t get far enough to get my advanced class or try a Flashpoint (SWTOR equivalent of a dungeon). I’m hoping I”ll be able to do that in the upcoming weekend. (Stephen Reid, community manager for SWTOR confirmed our characters from the last weekend will carry over!)
I think @Linedan from my Twitter followers said it best, It’s a good game, but do not try to compare it to the insane excessive hype that’s flying around. That’s unrealistic.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Speculation: Role Breakdown at SWTOR End Game

It has been announced that part of the SWTOR will be Operations. These are large, PVE encounters, and are basically the functional equivalent of raids from other MMOs. The model I was familiar with from my days in World of Warcraft was 10 man raids and 25 man raids. SWTOR is going to alter that mix a bit by using 8 man teams, and 16 man teams. We also know from the descriptions of the various classes that SWTOR will use the classic Trinity system of Tank, Healer, and DPS.
How will your typical team break down into the roles? We know group composition will be determined by encounter design. Unfortunately, all that information is locked up tight behind the NDA, but if we look at the World of Warcraft example, the typical 10 man was 2 tanks, 2 or 3 healers, and 5 or 6 DPS. The 25 man had more flexibility with 2 or 3 tanks, 7 to 9 healers, and 13 to 16 DPS. In the later expansions, 2 tanks became the norm in both 10 man and 25 man content.
Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that SWTOR Operations will employ 2 tanks in both the 8 man and 16 man environments. With that baseline established, it should be a simple exercise to figure out the number of healers, and then the remaining spots will be filled by DPS. If we have 2 healers in our 8 man team, that leaves 4 spots for DPS, but this really puts some stress on the healers. If there is raid wide damage, and we saw an example of this in the blow back ability the giant robot did in the Eternity Vault video at E3, then the two healers are responsible for both tanks, as well as the raid. They could split this up by having 1 healer cover both tanks, and the other healer cover the raid damage, or each healer would cover a single tank and fill in on raid damage as needed. Either way, the healers are going to be very busy.
I know in Warcraft 10 man teams sometimes ran two healers, but in our group we nearly always ran 3 on new content. This still left half the raid for DPS, but look at what happens if you do that in an 8 man team. Now you have only 3 spots left for DPS. If the boss has an enrage timer, will 3 dps be able to beat it? Even if the boss doesn’t, will 3 dps be able to do enough damage before the healers run out of force, or whatever mechanic the healers are using to power their spells? I think that will lead to the default configuration being 2 tanks, 2 healers, and 4 dps, and really put on onus on healers doing their job well.
8 to 16 scales up much more easily than 10 to 25.  We could try a model that simply doubles the 8 man team to make our 16 man team. That would leave us with 4 tanks, 4 healers, and 8 dps, but I don’t think that is how it will work out. I’m assuming that the same encounters will be used for both 8 and 16 man teams, and given what we’ve seen from Warcraft, the number of tanks generally holds steady.  So we will again have just 2 tanks in our 16 man. Those extra two spots probably go to healers, or one healer and one dps, so your alignment looks like 2 tanks, 4 healers, and 8 dps or 2 tanks, 3 healers, and 9 dps.
One conclusion this line of thinking leads to is that one of the issues we saw in World of Warcraft repeats in Old Republic. You have a need for many tanks in your Flashpoints, but you need far less tanks in your Operations. In Warcraft, this helped contribute to a tank shortage in the Flashpoint level content, called Heroics or simply 5 mans. We could see a similar dynamic in Old Republic where, as a tank, you were practically begged for in Flashpoints, but have a hard time finding a spot in a raid/Operation.
Old Republic appears to have borrowed heavily from World of Warcraft in its design, thereby inheriting its strong market appeal, but also inheriting its issues.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Living for the Weekend

If you follow my Twitter feed @TedtheThird, you know I was one of the people picked to test Star Wars the Old Republic this weekend. Friday night, I will be actually play the game I’ve been waiting 3 years to play. When I downloaded the client, I noticed I was a little short on hard drive space, so I made it official and uninstalled World of Warcraft. It’s been a great ride, but it’s really over now.
The first question I asked myself is what I was going to play for beta. My plan all along has been to roll a Jedi Knight Guardian at launch, but do I want to play him during beta? On the plus side, I could start to get familiar with the class, and it’s combat capabilities and see how I like it.The downside is i really don’t want to spoil the story for launch. I will be in the first or second day of early access since i activated my preorder code about 5 hours after the preorder went on sale.
I don’t plan on playing a Sith character right now. After my Guardian, the next class I want to play is a Smuggler Sharpshooter. So what I'm thinking right now is I’ll play a Sith Warrior Juggernaut for beta. It will allow me to get a feel for the class since the Juggernaut and the Guardian are essentially the same class with different names for their spells, but it will allow me to keep the story fresh for launch. I’m not going to mess with crafting, just too short a time to worry with that.
I plan on writing a non NDA breaking blog post on Monday to let you know about my experiences, but this highlights a little problem the invite caused. Once I play beta, I can’t talk about it until the NDA is lifted. That’s going to make it really hard to blog about SWTOR without using knowledge I gained in game. I don’t want to jeopardize my account, so I won’t be leaking anything here, but as soon as the NDA is lifted I’ll let you know everything I found out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The 3 Tanks of SWTOR

As we are getting closer to launch, I wanted to start honing in on the tank classes for Star Wars the Old Republic. Very little is known about the actual tanking mechanics to anyone not in the beta, and those people ain’t talking. The information in this post was compiled from two interviews with Lead System designer, Georg Zoeller,  one with Republic Trooper, and one on Red Rancor.
We know that there are 3 tank classes in the game with different names depending on whether they fight for Republic and Sith.
  • Trooper Vanguard / Bounty Hunter Power Tech
  • Jedi Consular Shadow / Sith Inquisitor Assassian
  • Jedi Knight Guardian / Sith Warrior Juggernaut
For simplicity, I’m going to use the Republic names since that will be the side of my ‘main’ in SWTOR, but everything I say about one AC is true too of the mirror, so if I talk about Guardians, I mean that same things apply to Juggernauts.
We know that the goal of the Devs is for each tank to be viable in the main tank role. This isn’t vanilla WoW where we had one true tank (Warrior) and two sort of tanks (Druids and Paladins).
Georg Zoeller said, "All tank specs in the game are designed to function as a main tank. There are no 'off tanks' by design in the game, that would involve players intentionally choosing such a role by speccing hybrid.By design, all tank capable ACs can spec to be fully capable main tanks. There are no 'off tanks' unless you intentionally spend your skill points into different trees.”
This is a great goal, but we will have to wait until the NDA is lifted to see how well that goal is being accomplished in end game Operations.
Now the Shadow was assumed to be an avoidance tank, and in past MMOs, that tanking model has not faired well. But Georg gave Red Rancor a little ‘not so fast’.
He said, “Shadow and Assassin rely a bit more on avoidance in their tanking ability mix than other Advanced Classes. The actual contribution of avoidance to Jedi Shadow/Sith Assassin survivability is only about 5% higher than for other Advanced Classes. They also have some active defenses that can increase their survivability and mitigate incoming burst damage if needed.”
The active defenses makes me think of the model of the World of Warcraft Death Knight who have swung from wildly overpowered to struggling underpowered as they were tweaked and balanced from patch to patch. The Shadow does get more of his survivability from avoidance, but not a whole lot more, so perhaps he will not fall prey to the issues that have affected other evasion type tanks.
There seems to be already be a little of the ‘Shadow can’t tank’ feeling to the game because dedicated Shadow tanks launched MainTankasin. If the name looks familiar, it should, as it harkens back to the Maintankadin, which was the site dedicated to proving Paladins could be viable tanks in WoW. The fact that a group of Assassins would want to launch this site gives credence to having to fight for the notion that Shadows are viable.
The assumption about the Guardian/Warrior was that they would be mitigation tanks, like the World of Warcraft Warrior. I have yet to find any source from a Dev that talks about the model for the Guardian/Juggernaut tank. This concerns me.
What we do know from the Republic Trooper article is that Troopers are definitely mitigation tanks. Zoeller, in the interview with Republic Trooper said, “their tanking ability is based more upon absorption and shielding and less about avoidance, making them the slightly more predictable tanks (Medics love that).”
I find this highly concerning for Guardians and Shadows. Being the most predictable tank is a huge advantage, and could very well signal that Troopers will be the default MT of SWTOR, and the Troopers advantages don’t stop there.
Again Zoeller to Republic Trooper, “Unlike the Guardian and the Shadow, the Vanguard is capable of building threat even from range, giving them the limited but marked ability of tanking at a distance.”
This is another concern, as most veteran MMO players know the innate advantage ranged has over melee.  Zoeller said, “Since this is a Star Wars game, and most enemies in Star Wars utilize ranged weapons such as blaster rifles, cannons or grenade launchers, the Vanguard’s ability to draw attention from range also emerged as a distinct advantage over melee bound classes like the Jedi Guardian, who have to close from range to create initial threat.”
But this had some drawbacks as well. It was tough to tell who was actually tanking. It also made it difficult for the Trooper to perform some of the mob positioning necessary for tanks to do. So they decided to nerf the troopers range.
Zoeller said, “we’ve solved this problem by moving the ‘sweet zone’ for tanking on the Vanguard into mid-range, allowing for strategic use of ranged attacks while keeping him in the thick of the action.”
What is interesting in all this discussion of ranged and melee is the discovery that SWTOR doesn’t have different rules for ranged and melee threat. In Warcraft, it is easier for melee characters to pull threat on a mob than ranged characters. Zoeller said, “there are no special calculations made in the threat calculation logic that would favor melee over ranged damage.”
I hope we get some new information on the mechanics of the Jedi Guardian soon so we can really round out our understanding of the three tanks. I am rooting for the Developers to accomplish their goal and have three viable relatively balanced tanks for end game Operations.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Guest Post “End Game”

Short post today, as today’s actual post is a guest post I did on Mana Obscura on why the End Game is so vital to MMOs. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Finding a Champion

I’ve started playing Champions Online. It’s a fun game and a nice change of pace from WoW. I got a chance to try out Champions Online when they went free to play. I downloaded the client and had a blast trying out various classes.

My 3 favorites are my Behemoth, my Fist character and my custom “gold” Power Armor. Picking a ‘main’ toon has been difficult but I think it’s going to be my Behemoth.

Since I wanted to try it out for a month I subscribed to the gold package, but I think I will go back to the Free to Play “Silver”. I can still play my Fist and my Behemoth but I won’t be able to play my custom Power Armor.

Costume_Atceth_Rokushijo Satsuma_CC_Comic_Page_Blue_324865379

This is my Fist character that I named Rokushijo Satsuma, or Roku for short. This is a martial arts type of hero like from the Bruce Lee movies. I based Roku on the Street Fighter character of Ryu, but the costume editor had it limitations especially in modeling Roku’s leggings.

Fist was a fun melee DPS type of archetype. His combat was pretty repetitive with spamming his Thundering Kick ability. This was a more fun concept than it was a character. I might come back to him at some point in the future.




Costume_Atceth_NoName_CC_Comic_Page_Blue_324872625 This is my Behemoth character. Behemoth is an archetype that models Super Heroes like The Incredible Hulk, Thing from Fantastic Four, and Juggernaut from X-Men. You are basically big and strong and beat people down with your bare fists or by throwing environmental objects at them. I chose to model my Behemoth character after Colossus from the X-Men. Colossus is a lesser known super hero. I messed up my first attempt at making his costume and he ended up looking like Captain Planet, but I like his current costume much better.

Behemoth has a lot of fun powers where you end up basically hitting guys across the screen. It is also very ‘warrior-like’ with abilities like Thunderclap and Shockwave.

Behemoth is horrible in PVP in my experience. Melee in general doesn’t do well. When you have characters that can fly and have multiple ways of creating and maintaining distance on you, it’s very hard to make any headway. Probably the worst offender if Teleport which allows a character to disappear, move and reappear. However, if you quick on your keys, with a little server lag, you can disappear and reappear without ever showing up in the world and heal up before you reenter combat. It’s very frustrating.


But few things in Champions Online are as fun as picking up the enemies nukes and throwing them back at him.


This is the “gold” character I made to try out the freeform hero. There really wasn’t an archetype that harkens back to the Power Armor of Iron Man, or a Mecha suit. My Power Armor is named SAMAS (Strategic Ariel Military Assault Suit). I did the best job I could to match him to the SAMAS from the Pen and Paper Role Playing Game RIFTS. He combines much of what I enjoyed from Behemoth, but also has a ton of ranged tools. He’s a little bit of tank, and a little bit of firepower. When I turn on all of his weapons systems, there is much destruction and fun to be had.screenshot_2010-05-01-20-56-59This is basically what I would have made my main in CO, but once SWTOR come out I won’t be able to maintain my “gold” status so I’ll be playing my Behemoth more.