Friday, April 25, 2014

Why Wildstar’s Endgame Will Work

At PAX East, the major emphasis of the Wildstar team was on end game. Many people including Massively’s Wildstar writer, Eliot Lefebvre, are dismayed by the apparent emphasis on high end raids as the main PVE endgame in Wildstar.

Wildstar has two raid sizes, 20 man and 40 man. If that feels a little Vanilla WoW to you it should.

(cue Billy Mays voice) But wait, there’s more!

They are also bringing back attunements. At level cap there is a lengthy quest chain that must be completed before you can start the 20 man raid. Completing the 20 man raid is required to start the 40 man raid. The attunement requirement is turned off in Beta to allow for more testing, but like the early mount that shortcut will not be in the live product.

We will hear all the arguments about 40 mans we did in WoW. We will hear about how only 1% of the players see the content and how it’s a massive waste of limited developer and artists resources. These were arguments I believed and supported. I cheered as the 40 mans were removed and replaced by 10s and 25s.

But after seeing the results (for example: WoW: Accessibility and Apathy ) I have to admit, I was wrong.

We now have a situation in WoW where you can get to the level cap, beat every boss and get all the gear without lifting a finger. We've gone from not being able to see the incredible raid content, to seeing a weak approximation of the incredible raid content. In addition, the only promise of more content is to do the same bosses over again in a harder mode.

What I've come to realize is an application of something that Rohan noted a couple of years ago. His context was PVP, but his observation fits for PVE as well.

The Path


The key is the concept of "Being On The Path" for endgame content. In nutshell, the number of people who reach the highest point of endgame is less important than the number of people who are working towards--and feel that they one day could achieve--that point.
As long as a player is "on the path", everything is fine. The real crisis point is when people are unable to get on the path, or their progress on the path becomes completely blocked. I think it is more important to help the guilds who are trying to become raiding guilds.
To help the people who cannot get on the path at all. The number of players who achieve the end is less important than the number of players who are on the path to the end. 
I believe the same will apply to Wildstar. The 40 mans, and the artifact gear they contain creates a long range goal for many players.

Orange is the new Purple 


WoW has created the expectation that endgame players will be in purples. Wildstar doesn't even try to fight this. The 20 man raid will rain down the Professor Plums (that’s a Clue reference to purple)*. But being epic’ed out won’t be the goal anymore. The 40 man awards Legendary (Orange) gear with a small chance at Artifact (Pink) gear. You see someone walking around Thayd with all orange gear and a pink weapon; you will know he’s done some incredibly difficult content.

The conceit of most players is to believe one day they will get there. They are on the path.

Off the Path 


Some people, maybe like our friend Eliot from Massively, will look at raiding and decide they don’t want to do it or more likely their life situation doesn't allow for a raiding schedule. Some people are incapable of spending 3 hours in front of a computer for multiple nights. This will, in all likelihood, be my situation. 

The good news is that 20 and 40 man raids are large and need a healthy number of bodies. Even someone with limited play time could find a useful role as a bench player. Replacements are always needed during a raid, especially the larger ones.

If someone truly doesn't want to raid, Wildstar has other endgame activities, but those won’t award the best and most incredible looking gear. If a prospective player finds that to be an untenable solution, then I would submit that they would be better off playing ESO or GW2 rather than a game like Wildstar which is clearly communicating an attempt to return to Vanilla WoW’s hardcore raiding roots.

*"Professor Plums (that’s a Clue reference to purple)" is a quote from Jimmy's Story, a very funny old WoW Youtube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeUhSjuhQYE)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wildstar: Which Path to Take?

In Wildstar, you select both a class and a path at character creation and neither can be changed later without rerolling. Classes are fairly straightforward and help define your role (Tank/Heal/Ranged/Melee).

Bartle Paths


Paths are different. They constitute about 30% of your leveling experience and in theory map to the famous Bartle types. In practice, the correlation between Bartle Types and Paths seems a bit forced.

Bartle broke down players in one of four types: Achievers, Socializers, Explorers and Killers. Achievers should be attracted to the Science Path, Socializers to the Settlers path, Explorers to the aptly named Explorer Path, and Killers to the Soldier Path. I've played all four paths in Beta through Level 7. Out of the four, Soldier seems to be the one that best fits its associated Bartle type.. As a Soldier, you get a variety of quests and missions that have you… kill stuff… with style.

Explorer should be renamed the Jumping Puzzles path. I found the early jumping puzzles to be fairly simple, but I’m sure it ramps up to 11 as you level up. The payoff is quite nice and the views are stunning. Settler should be called the BuffBot path. You build these stations that give all players (including you) different buffs. Science is the Lore path. You open up additional Lore and you get a pet.

Science seems like a natural fit for Engineer Class and the additional pet does not count against your ‘bot’ limit. A Science Engineer can have three bots out (2 Engineer ones plus the noncombat Science one). While your Scanbot doesn't fight, it does help give that look of traveling with your own private army of robots. Soldier seems like it would go well with a Warrior. Explorer fits in with the teleporting of the Spellslinger.


Perks and Powers


All paths provide bags, housing items, and titles are various levels. Each Path also provides a your character with several powers. You have one of these power in an active slot on your action set. I’ll evaluate each power on a 5 cupcake scale.

Solider powers: 

  • Back Into the Fray – heals 100% HP. Only out-of-the-battle use. / 3 cupcakes. If your class doesn’t have a heal (all tanks) this will be great for recovering from one battle and getting ready for another. I’m not sure what the cool down is. 
  • Tactical Retreat – allows to take you and your team to the safety. / 2 cupcakes. I didn’t get this power in Beta. I’m not sure if it teleports a short distance away or takes you to your current bind location. • Combat Supply Drop – drops a box with weapon for you and allies next to you. This weapon allows to use skills like stuns etc. / 2 cupcakes. The weapons have limited charges. Most of the time I went with my regular rotation.
  • Soldier Rations: Activation: Places a Ration’s crate. Upon interacting with the crate, for the next 5.0s restores 446/892/1782 health every 0.5s. / 3 cupcakes, and sprinkles on top if Back Into the Fray (BItF) is on cool down. It seems like the solider is focused on recovering health.
  • Soldier’s March: Activation: Movement speed increased by 20% for the next 15.0 seconds. (30.0/20.0/10.0 Min CD) / 4 cupcakes. Movement speed increases are fantastic especially since you won’t get a mount until Level 25. 1 cupcake dedication for the ridiculously long cool down. 
Soldier powers slice and dice a total of 14 cupcakes.

Settler Powers: 

  • Settler’s Campfire (60.0 min CD) – allows you to set up a fire which increases healing and maximum health for an hour. You receive a buff for each player who uses your campfire. / 2 cupcakes. This would be higher if the cool down wasn’t so long.
  • Summon: Vendbot – creates a shop which buys everything from you for sixty seconds. Also serves as a repair bot for your party. / 5 Cupcakes. Inventory management is a huge pain in the neck through the early game. You don’t have the bag or bank space (especially if you are trying to collect two sets of gear). This will only be made worse with all the Mystery Boxes and other promotions Wildstar is running. In addition, after seeing how challenging the dungeons are, you are going to want a Settler in your party for repairs. 
  • Report Home – creates portal to your house. / 0 cupcakes. This was removed when they gave all players a teleport to their house.
  • Tech-Totem: Experience: Activation: Drops a totem that increases experience gain by 2%/4%/6% to allies within 35 meters of the totem for the next 60.0 seconds. / 5 cupcakes. Normally, this would only be useful during leveling, however; at cap experience points become Elder points which get you Elder gems. 
  • Sleeping Bag – allows you to log out in the world and get rested experienced (but less rested than you would get at your house). / 2 cupcakes. With the housing teleport you can teleport to your house and teleport right back to wherever you left. I guess there might be sometimes when you’d want to log out in the wild.
Settler makes is 14 cupcakes.

Science Powers

  • Holographic Distraction – summons a clone who distracts enemies. / Originally 3 cupcakes, now 1 cupcake. however this was recently nerfed so that you can’t use it in any group content (PVE or PVP). You can only use it in the open world. 
  • Summon: Group – summons a group to you. / 5 cupcakes. Anyone who had “Have Group, Will Travel” in WoW knows how helpful this can be. 
  • Create Portal – Capitol City: Activation: Opens a portal to the Capital City for the next 10.0 seconds. (120/90/60 min CD) – 0 cupcakes / This was recently given to all players. It is unclear what will happen. Based upon the Settler’s home teleport, it seems likely this will be removed. 
  • Clarity Elixir: Activation: Places a Ration’s crate. Upon interacting with the crate, for the next 5.0s restores 2%/5%/10% focus every 0.5s. / 3 cupcakes for focus using classes, 0 cupcakes for non-focus using classes. 
  • Generator: Reputation Gain: Activation: Places an aura on the ground that increases reputation gain by 2%/4%/6% to allies within 35 meters for the next 60.0 seconds. / 4 cupcakes. Wildstar has reputation grinds and I’m sure you remember how useful the Human racial trait Diplomacy was in WoW.
  • Scanbot / 1 cupcake. This allows you to do Scientists mission but doesn't provide any perks. I’m giving 1 cupcake just for the sheer coolness factor.
Science discover 14 cupcakes for Focus using classes, 11 cupcakes for non-Focus using classes. 

Explorer Powers


  • Safe Fall: Activation: Damage taken from falling reduced by 15%/30%/45% for the next 5.0/7.5/10.0 seconds. Damage from big falls are decreased for a given time. / 3 cupcakes. I have a feeling Explorers will be falling a lot when they mess up a jumping puzzle. Dying is expensive so this will keep you alive. 
  • Air Brakes – It stops you in the air and let you admire views and make another jump. / 2 cupcakes. Really only needed to solve some jumping puzzles. 
  • Translocate beacon – lets you save your current position and then teleport to it. Unavailable during PvP. / 4 cupcakes. The further away you are from the beacon the greater the cool down. I could see players coming up with all sorts of interesting and fun ways of using this like leaving this at the entrance of a cave so you don’t have to fight your way back out. 
  • Enduring Breath: Activation: Breath decays 30%/45%/60% slower than normal. / 2 cupcakes. Like Air Brakes, this one seems like it is simply to help the Explorer do some of the Explorer specific stuff and wouldn't really help outside of that path. 

Explorer finds 11 cupcakes.

For Me? 


I eliminated Explorer because I’m not a huge fan of jumping puzzles. I really like Science since it goes well with being an Engineer and I’m usually a Lore nut. That said, Engineers don’t use focus and the overall package seems a little weak. I’m hugely tempted by the incredible potential of Soldier and Settler. Both seem like they would help you level faster and Settler seems like the advantages would continue even into Elder Game content.

 Sources: http://www.wildstarfans.net/2013/12/chief-sarcans-guide-to-paths.html
http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/game/632/feature/8252/Chief-Sarcans-Guide-to-Paths.html
http://guides.gamepressure.com/wildstar/guide.asp?ID=24192

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Engineer Tank versus Stormtlaon's Lair

I had one major goal this past Beta weekend. I wanted to run Stormtalon’s Liar (STL) with my Engineer Tank. I had had one previous experience with tanking as an Engineer around level 15 in the Adventure “Hycrest’s Rebellion”. Now at level 20, it was time to see what Wildstar’s dungeons had in store.

First surprise 

Upon hitting level 20, Stormtalon’s Lair did not magically appear in my list of dungeons I could queue for. After doing some digging, I discovered that first you have to go to the actual entrance of the instance. Then you can queue for it. Visions of The Burning Crusade danced in my head. Since this was my first go at STL, I opted to queue with both DPS and Tank selected. The queue popped almost instantly and I had been selected to tank.

Prep 

In Wildstar, you use action sets. These are the powers you have on your hot bar and can use during combat. At level 20, I’m limited to only 7 active powers. In addition to the powers themselves, the action set remembers the points you spent to enhance your powers as well as the talents (called AMPs) that you’ve chosen. You get two action sets you can switch between. Additional sets are purchased with Elder Gems (an end game currency). Effectively, you are limited to two action sets while you level up.

I have mine set to a DPS build and a tank build. I’ve love a third for PVP, but that won’t be happening.

Prep step number one, I switched to my tank Action Set. 

Tank Engineers and DPS Engineers also value different stats on their gear. When I’m DPS, I love Moxie for crit and Finesse for Assault Power. As a Tank, I want Insight for Deflect (which is basically avoidance) and Tech for Support Power. Attack Power in Wildstar is broken down into Assault Power and Support Power. A piece of gear will one or the other, and rarely both (and even when both appear one will be higher). Your powers are also categorized as Assault or Support (also Utility). Assault Power makes Assault powers hit harder but does nothing for Support powers and the reverse is also true.

It has been hard while questing in Wildstar to maintain a good set of tanking gear and DPS gear. Often you have to choose between a DPS piece and a Tank piece as a quest reward, but I’ve tried to keep a decent set in my bags.

Prep step number two. I put on the best tank gear I had. 

Next, I switched Mode. Engineer has two modes: Eradicate and Provoke. Eradicate mode increases damage, while Provoke mode reduces damage and increases threat. Your mode also controls the temporary buff I got when I activated the mech suit. The Eradicate suit gives you crit and assault power. The Provoke suit gives you damage reduction and avoidance.

Prep step number three, I switched to Provoke mode. 

Hammer Time 

I zoned in and spotted the first trash pack. It’s Hammer Time!

Some of the trash mobs hit really hard, or have specials that hit really hard. We wiped at least twice to trash. Wildstar had taught me to be moving almost constantly. That’s a good thing in solo play. It works less well in group play. Your healer is targeting their own heals. I kept moving out of the healing telegraph to avoid a mob telegraph. The heal would miss and would die. Also, there are plenty of patting mobs roaming the dungeon getting an add pretty much equaled death for our group. I really missed not having some sort of Death Grip type pull in my arsenal.

Wildstar doesn't joke around. I mean, sure, its jokes around a lot, but in Stormtalon, those mobs play for keeps. 

While one of the member of my group expressed concern about surviving the first boss when we were dying to trash, we soldiered on.

We arrived at the first boss, Blade-Wind. Stormtalon's Lair is a like a big air elemental raid. Blade-Wind fits right at home. He is a big elemental surrounded by four channelers. After we DPSed the boss, he would go immune and we would work down the channelers. It reminded me a little bit of the Magtheridon encounter. When a channeler died, it spawned a spark. If the spark hit you, you were rooted, and that was, generally speaking, a bad thing.

The boss hit like a freaking truck pulling a freight train. I had about 9k hit points, plus my shield. This guy hit for 3k a pop. I had to pop the mech suit on the pull and again when he came out of the immune. Liberal use of med sprays was involved.

After the second wipe, I switched out some gear. It was classic WotLK thinking time: stamina (called Grit in Wildstar), stamina and more stamina. Nothing mattered except what would give me the biggest health pool.

Despite the wipes, no one was getting angry and no one was looking to cast blame. I kept waiting for someone to start yelling at the ‘phail tank’ and kick me to get a new one. That never happened. We actually talked about strategy. I don’t remember the last time I did that in a PuG. We decided to only DPS the channelers down most of the way, but not kill them. This meant we didn’t have as many sparks to deal with.

Between the new strategy and the gear change, we got him down. One of the group members was quite relieved and shared how a previous group had spent hours on just that boss.

We moved on. More trash. More wipes. Sometimes it just made more sense to leave Bobby (my Bruiser Bot) unsummoned until after the pull.

We get to the second boss. He’s another elemental. Every 30% or so, he disappears and summons adds. These adds freaking hurt. I would save Bobby’s taunt for when the adds spawned and then have him pick up the adds. That gave the healer a few seconds to recover and the DPS a few seconds to work on them. If (err…when) Bobby went down, I would use my AoE taunt and we’d finish them off.

This showed me a key advantage of the Engineer tank. The Bruiser Bot essentially represents another pool of health. I haven’t seen anything yet that is taunt immune so when things get crazy, have Bobby taunt and even if he goes down, that’s 6 or 7k worth of damage soaked that your healer didn't have to heal, and you can get him back in 15 seconds.

But that was the easy part of the fight. Now the fun begins. The next thing that happens is the boss blows you back to the entrance and start channeling a nuke that will one shot the party. You have to interrupt it. But in Wildstar, nothing is that simple. Bosses have Interrupt Armor. We had to use multiple interrupts to first break through the interrupt armor. That is, of course, assuming we could get to him in the first place to use our interrupts. Tornadoes spawn when he blows you back and move around the room, a bit like Blade Lord Tay’ak in Heart of Fear. If they hit you, they knock you up in the air and take some damage as well as some additional fall damage. Worst of all, you've wasted precious time not getting to the boss to the get the interrupts.

Yes, this is the very first dungeon in Wildstar. It’s intense.

We continued working our way through the dungeon and dying a couple of more times. Next we were ready to face off with Arcanist Breeze Binder. I promise I'm not making up these boss names. Nobody knew or remembered a strategy for him. The big problem was once again adds. Every few seconds he would summon another set and they would overwhelm us. Eventually, we figured out we could interrupt the cast where he called the adds. That made the fight much easier.

A few pulls after Arcanist, you face the High Priest who calls down Stormtalon herself.
I wish I could tell you more about this fight. It was freaking crazy. Red telegraphs were everywhere. One telegraph centered on a player who had to move it around the room while avoiding other telegraphs. We lost two DPS in phase changes, but we were doing okay. Then I saw the healer go down. I cycled through everything I had. Mech suit, Recursive Matrix, Med pacs. We lost another DPS. Now it was down to just me and the Stalker. Stormtalon’s health was in the single digits. I could tell I didn't have long before I would go down, but instead Stormtalon dropped. The other players cheered and we rezzed the dead. It was nice to actually finish a fight on this side of the dirt for once.

Satisfaction


It was the most satisfying kill I've had in a five man in a long time. I'd compare it to an early Magister's Terrace.

As I zoned out, it felt like a hard won victory. There was no steamrolling, no pull as much as you want and AoE blast your way through it.

 It was intense, it was hard, and it was a blast.

I think the 'scoreboard' screen at the end is bugged. Yes, I died 20 times. There is no way I should have been #1 in staying alive. #1 at dying, yes. Also, no way I was #1 in heals or kills.

The scariest part to me is it was just under two hours and this is supposed to be one of the shorter dungeons.

Special thanks to Raidy the Stalker, Deyedia the ESPer, ThunderTorque the Engineer for a great run. Extra special thanks to Hakurei the Medic for being our healer.

After the run, I decided to head to my house and take it easy.