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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

RoM Part 3 -- Quests and Advancement

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday May 27 2009 at 3:42PM
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I have progressed a little in RoM over the past couple of weeks and gotten my main, Silfain, up to Knight 26/Warrior 25 and she is a fairly sturdy tank. Seeing as I have reached the half way point (in levels, if not in absolute time), I figured it would be a fine time to talk about advancing in RoM.

First thing is questing... the early levels of RoM are full of quests. From the moment you start your adventures in the newbie village, you will be innundated with quests. There are quests to kill mushroom guys, quests to kill wolves, quests to post messages on a town bulletin board, quests to get gift bags of starter equipment from merchants, quests to harvest wood and herbs, quests to talk to other quest givers who are standing 5 meters away from the original quest giver.

Sarcasm aside, the point is that there are a lot of quests and that they generally don't stray too far from the tried and true, step, fetch and kill quests that have become the meat and potatoes of mmos nowadays. The game boasts over 1000 quests (though a couple of them literally last the time it takes you to rotate your character and click the next guy over) and overall, they do a good job progressing you through the "story" of the game (though I have to admit, I don't read quest text in most of my MMOs), of guiding you from area to area, and of providing a few pieces of nice gear to keep you motivated.

Most quests are soloable, and quests are one of the main ways a new character will gain experience, gold and stuff. However, even early on, a few of the quests will "Bump" you into encounters with elite creatures that will require you to outlevel the quest somewhat, or group, to complete them. This isn't a bad thing though, as there are normally players on chat continuously looking to group for these bosses -- help is often only a quick "lfg" away.

Another item of note is the concept of Daily Quests. Scattered throughout the world are bulletin boards from which characters can pick up quests. Each day, a character can pick up 10 quests from the board. The quests are all to kill x creatures and gather y drops from them, or to kill a specific roaming boss monster (there are several of these nasties wandering every zone), so they aren't particularly exciting. However, they offer decent xp and gold and tokens that can be used in the cash shop, so they are reasonably rewarding. More importantly, the items you need to collect drop from mobs even if you don't have the quest in your log. That means, you can collect items as you are exploring, grinding, or completing other quests and when you find you have the requisite number of teeth/tusks/eyeballs/mountain oysters (ok, I made that one up) in your inventory, head to the local bulletin board and sign up for the quest, which you have already completed.

Of course, as you complete the boatload of quests you are given, you will naturally gain experience and progress in the game. The early levels come very quickly, as they seem to do in almost every MMO now, and an experienced player can literally bang out the first 10 levels in under an hour. Once you reach this "milestone", you can head off to the city of Varanas and sign up for your second class (remember, all characters in RoM are dual-classed)... at which point, you have to level up all over again as a member of your new class.

This isn't as bad as it first sounds. You are given lots of help to start your second career. First, you get a new set of starter gear for your second profession. Second, you are given a teleport spell that takes you to your original starter village, where you will find that a few new quests have opened up since you first arrived. Alternately, you can teleport to a new newbie area where you can interact with a whole new race of goat-people? and do new and painfully similar quests to the ones elsewhere in the game -- still it is new scenery (though I have only gone there once because I am a dirty powergamer). Finally, the way the quest turn-ins and daily quests work, you can level your second class pretty easily. Heck, you never even have to PLAY your second class if you don't want to.

Let me explain...

The quests available to you are based on the level of the class you are playing as your primary at that moment. When you turn in a quest, you get experience applied to the class you are playing at that moment. So, if I am playing a newly minted Knight 10/Warrior 1, I can make sure I am playing my Knight primary, take a level 10 quest and complete it, switch to my newbie warrior and turn in that same quest for the level 10 experience reward.

My standard procedure with a new alt is that once I hit level 9, I will take quests and complete them, but not turn them in. Instead, I will grind from 9 to 10 on kill experience only. Once I ding 10, I will get my second class, then head back and do all my turn-ins. This gets me somewhere between level 5 and 7 in my new class with no effort. The same concept can be applied to dailies too. You can take and complete daily quests as you higher level class, then turn in as your lower level class to catch up.

Now, not everyone does this. Since every character in RoM is essentially two separate builds, I could easily see wanting to play both to see how they perform. I often take breaks from my K/W with his defense-oriented sword and board play to the W/K with his whirling two-handed sword of doom. Still, it can be daunting leveling two separate times and collecting two separate sets of gear and it is nice to have strategies so that doing so is unecessary.

Another feature of RoM is that each class combination has a set of "Elite" skills that are gained when both primary and secondary classes hit level 15, 20, 25, 30, etc. These skills give each combo a unique flavor and further increase the power of the character. However, these elite skills come at a cost. When you hit 15/15, you will buy your first pair of elite skills (one skill for each combination). The cost? A mere 8000 gold and a few second tier combines of each of the three resources in the game.

Now that does not sound like much at first, but the way the crafting in RoM works out, it means harvesting 72 of each resource from the newbie zones. In my case, that is pretty easy; mindless harvesting doesn't bug me too much because I have forced labor in the form of children ("Now you walk around, click on those things and collect Daddy 80 of each, Ok?"). My buddy hates harvesting and crafting of any type and just dumped 40k on the market for the goods.

Later levels of elite skills are worse. The level 20 elites cost a similar amount of combines from higher level resources... which means you better have leveled your gathering skills far beyond the small amount required to harvest for your 15 elites. The level 25 elites requires farming 15 crystals from one of the game's instances. The crystals do drop, but it will take several runs and you better be able to solo the elites, or find a group (which means sharing the crystal drops).

RoM Impressions Part 2 -- Combat and Skills

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday May 20 2009 at 10:20AM
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Last post I wrote a little about the classes in RoM and the dual-classing system which I like. The question is, given this neat character system, how do the fights play out?

Combat in RoM is solid, but standard, fare. If you have played WoW or EQ2, or any of the multitude of MMOs in existance, you are familiar with RoM's combat model. You have an auto-attack, but most of your action comes from spamming your characters abilities.

As you level, your character fills his hotbar with abilities which do damage and often have some kind of secondary effect. A warrior's Slash causes a bleed effect. A rogue's Blind Stab reduces his foe's accuracy. A knight's Shield of Atonement makes his opponent incapable of physical attacks for a short period of time.

On the resource management side of things, each ability costs a certain amount of a resource that depends on your class. For rogues it is energy, scouts have concentration, warriors rage, and spellcasters have mana. In addition to managing a pool of points, some classes have additional considerations on certain powers. Rogues have a few positional attacks; knights have seals they have to apply before certain attacks can be used; warriors have powers that are more effective if they are chained in a certain order.

Enemy behavior is pretty standard as well. Attacking creatures, or healing your allies causes threat and creatures attack the player who has generated the most threat. Knights and warriors have taunt-type powers that can draw threat to them, sparing their squishier allies from the predations of the bad guys. Some characters have powers that allow them to deal with the threat they generate.

Though almost every class has some kind of slow, root, or stun, I would say that there is not a heavy emphasis on crowd control in RoM (at least through the first 25 levels of play). Most of the crowd control effects are very short lived -- more for a brief respite in an "Oh Crap" moment than for splitting large groups or neutralizing a dangerous foe that stumbles into an ongoing fight. Similarly, there is not a big emphasis on debuffing the enemy.

Now if you don't have a heavy emphasis on crowd control, buffing, or debuffing, you are left with damage and healing. RoM's combat is dominated by the concepts of damage and healing. It is a Holy Trinity game, meaning that for tough encounters you typically need a group balanced around a tank, a healer and dps. To RoM's credit, you can still solo much of the game. Encounters are divided into normal mobs and elites and unless you are fighting way above your level, normal mobs are fairly easy to deal with.

And that leads me to the only big issue I have with Runes of Magic's combat system...  there is a pretty harsh binary nature to it. Either everything is easy, and you might as well not be on a team, or the encounter is an elite and you better have your tank, healer, dps. My knight/warrior regularly teams with a mage/priest and I am either totally unecessary as the mage can blow through every trash mob with impunity, or I am absolutely required as everything will one-shot him... and it will three-shot me so I need heals and I need them now!!!

Having ranter, I would like to say that I am having fun with RoM. It is a good game overall. I have started to play with different character combinations to see how the system will stretch. My priest/rogue is an intriguing build and I think a knight/rogue would be pretty tough as well. Still, these combos are just variations on "can I make a hybrid tank/dps/healer"?  What I would really like to see is more utility, crowd control and debuffing as part of the core combat mechanic.

Runes of Magic Impressions Part 1 -- Character Creation and Classes

Posted by cmagoun Friday May 15 2009 at 1:52PM
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As I stated in a previous post, a friend and I have started playing Runes of Magic regularly and for the most part, we are enjoying it. And though the world needs another review of RoM about as much as it needs another gaming blog (wait a second...), I figured I would share my impressions of the game with you.

Character Creation: Character creation is pretty simple -- choose your class, choose your gender, choose a name and you are set. There are a few customization options, but nothing inspiring. You can choose a face and a hairstyle & (literally any) hair color. There are a bunch of sliders for your character's various body parts that control the size. So, you can make your arms bigger, or give your character a thinner waist. I generally don't fool with these too much, except to create female characters with reasonably sized chests (I will leave the definition of reasonable to the reader).

One thing I like about RoM in comparison to WoW is that the character models aren't caricatures. I always had a hard time playing a male human character in WoW because of their silly-looking Popeye forearms and general ugliness. One of my friends (who would probably like WoW) dismisses it out of hand because it is "too cartoony". RoM's character models are much, much nicer to look at.

Classes: There are six classes in RoM which fit the typical MMO mold. I will give a really rough rundown here.

Warrior -- The warrior is a sustained DPS class with some off-tanking abilities.

Knight -- The knight is a main tank with high hit points, plate mail and lots of aggro-management.

Rogue -- The rogue is your high-DPS melee character with the typical positional attacks and stealth.

Scout -- The scout is a ranged DPS class who uses bows instead of spells.

Mage -- A typical glass cannon with high damage, no hit points and lots of CC as well.

Priest -- A healer who has some nice buffs, some direct damage and DOTs.

Only six classes that pretty much retread the earliest cprgs? Sounds pretty bland, I know. However, I have played all but the scout to a moderate (but lowish) level and they all have a few interesting powers which make them fun to play.

More importantly, RoM has a feature that makes this class system much, much more interesting than it first looks. Once you hit level 10, you head to the main town and pick a second class as your secondary -- every character is dual-classed. You have to level up this second class separately and your secondary level is capped at whatever your primary level is. So, you might be a Warrior 10/Mage 8, or a Priest 6/Rogue 4, but never a Knight 3/Scout 20.

Your secondary class gives you different stat boosts, a subset of its abilities to add to that of your main class, and the chance to unlock combination-specific "elite" skills at levels 15/15, 20/20, 25/25, 30/30 and 35/35.

The dual-class system gives RoM a lot of interesting character options. Instead of six possible character types, you get 60 (since a Mage/Warrior and Warrior/Mage aren't the same) and much like in City of Heroes, each combination plays significantly differently than other similar combos.

For instance, my Priest 14/Rogue 14 plays solos a lot differently than other priest combinations. Whereas other priests might solo like a typical caster, using a mix of DOTs, direct damage and their damage absorption shield, my P/R fires the priest DOT, then I wait for the enemy to get into melee range. Once they do, I smack them with a blinding strike from the rogue's powerset, then melee using the rogue's main melee attack. This attack chain is effective on solo trash and is pretty easy on my mana total. As I level up and get elite spells, the differenced between my P/R and other priests will become even greater.

Otherwise, powers and progression work similarly what we have come to expect. As you level, you gain stats based on your class choices. You gain new powers every couple levels, as well as talent points to spend increasing the effectiveness of your abilities. There are no talent trees in RoM, but you have to spend TP on each individual power to increase it. This is a simple system, but leads to some hard choices, as there are usually not enough points to level every power you would like.

As I notice that my lunch break is over, I should wrap this up. I really like the dual-classing system in RoM. It gives the character system a lot more "classes" than most other games and leads to choices about which combinations provide the most synergy. Good stuff.

Is Free to Play a Conflict of Interest? (or Do You Really Get What You Pay For?)

Posted by cmagoun Thursday May 14 2009 at 11:23AM
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I have recently been enjoying a few f2p games. Runes of Magic is my current game, but I have toyed with Mabinogi a bit as well (btw: this game has the best skill system I have ever seen in an MMO to date, but we can discuss that later) and want to get into Atlantica at some point soon. Free to play games have come a long way in the past few years and I would say that though the best f2p games now rival their p2p counterparts in most ways. But here's a thought...

If I am developing a subscription game, then I am getting paid for making people like the game enough to pay a regular fee to keep playing. This ultimately means making the game as fun for as many people as possible -- making the best game possible. I am getting paid because people are making a value judgement each month as to whether my game is worth the fee -- and it is a binary decision. A game either falls above or below the line:

A Game I'll Pay $15 A Month For
A Game I Won't Pay $15 A Month For

A Game I Won't Pay For At All

If I am developing a f2p game, then I am not getting paid to keep you playing. I do NEED to keep you playing, but that isn't what pays the bills. What pays the bills is convincing you to purchase from my Cash Shop. So, I might put items like mounts, XP potions, pets, costumes, teleport spells, etc. in my shop in hopes that you feel a need to buy them while you are playing the game. So, we get a situation that looks more like this:

A Game Where I Want To Buy Convenience Items



A Game I Will Play For Free
A Game I Won't Play Even if Free

Now, a f2p game might have a very wide "Free Range" in the middle. For example, let's say there was an f2p game (called Mount and Pay... wait that sounds dirty) where the only item in the Cash Shop was a mount. Literally everything else in the game was available by questing/grinding with a nominal effort. I have played lots of games where I never earned a mount, so I probably don't ever feel the need to buy one... So I play for free (as do many others) and the game goes under.

To make money, an f2p game will narrow that "Free Range" and make the Cash Shop items more exciting, or more necessary for full enjoyment of the game. In other words, to maximize income, it is in my best interest to make the game as inconvenient and as non-enjoyable as I possibly can without actually driving you to another game.

So, in my hypothetical M&P game, I might bump the mobs up a bit and then give mounted combat a bonus, or I might make certain areas only accessable to people with mounts, or I might make PvP very mount-centric. Some people will drop out of the game; others will decide to pay under pressure to keep up with their friends in the game. The ones that dropped out were likely never going to spend money and frankly, they aren't our target audience. As long as we don't drive paying customers out, we should be looking to increase the need/desire for our Cash Shop.

This is all fine and good. I am not condemning the f2p model, nor do I think my analysis is comprehensive. But I do think there is a bit of a tightrope f2p developers walk and that tightrope has nothing to do with creating the best game possible. It has to do with creating a game that is "good enough" to play for free, but "so much better" if you were to pay. Subscription game developers don't have to walk this line. Does that give them an advantage when it comes to producing quality games? What do you think?

The MMO Blues and Runes of Magic (or How I Cancelled All of My Subs, but Can Still Play WOW)

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday May 13 2009 at 11:51AM
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As I imagine many less than hardcore MMO players tend to do, I got into a bit of a funk over all my games and cancelled them. I had resubbed to WoW and CoX to hang out with some friends, and my WAR account was still active, but I nuked them all. For a few months, I buried myself in single-player games and programming, but just like it always does, the MMO itch returns...

You know, that uncomfortable, burning feeling you get when you aren't collecting 10 wolf paws for some cardboard NPC. The shakes that come when you haven't "ding"ed in weeks. When you start gaging the quality of appliances in your home by their color (I just got a blue tv, but my oven is white... should vendor it).

One problem, what game to play... I scanned my shelf:

CoX -- I do like CoX. It is a great game that has kept my attention for a long, long time, but there is no possible way I can play CoX again. I have done pretty much everything I want to do there and my regular group of buddies have turned that game into an exercise of tedious farming. They routinely 3 and 4 box and create insane teams of characters. Running with them is fun for the first farmed level or so, but then you realize you could activate powers, or head to the bathroom and the outcome of the battles would be the same. I think I am done with CoX.

EQ2 -- I still rank EQ2 as the best mainstream fantasy game out there, but somehow, I cannot bring myself to load it back up. Great game, but I just can't bring myself to load it back up.

AoC -- No... well maybe. I have heard that Funcom keeps plugging away on this one and has made significant improvment. I admit I am a little curious to see how this one turned out, but I am still a little wary.

FF11 -- I hate the fact that they delete your information if you unsub for longer than a set amount of time. Not that I ever got that high in this game, but it would be nice to not start this massive game from zero... hunting bees for hours on end solo.

WoW -- WoW is another game I think I am done with. Good game, but there is very little there I want to do.

You get the idea... Eve, GW, WAR and many others have graced my hard drive for a while, but I have little interest in getting back to any of them.

Now, I have dabbled in f2p games in the past, but found them lacking... polish, content, options, fun. A couple of years ago, I would have told you that no f2p game could possibly be worth your time. However, driven by my latest bout of mmo malaise, I searched through lists of free games and came upon Runes of Magic.

RoM is a fantasy f2p game that borrows ideas heavily from the more popular p2p games. The graphics, crafting and interface are similar to WoW (though without the character models looking so cartoony). The two class system was first seen in FFXI (though I would argue that RoM does dual-classing better). Public Quests from WAR were recently implemented.

It might sound like I consider RoM to be "more of the same". I don't. It is a fun game that provides the core MMO experience of hunting, questing, leveling, powers, instances, gathering, etc., does it well, and adds its own minor twists. Back in the day, before WoW became the Kleenex Xerox of MMOs, this is pretty much how you would have described it -- "Same old game, but darn good at it."

It's a fun game, and free doesn't hurt either. With a subscription game, there is always this realization that I am paying whether or not I am playing. There is something in my psyche that makes me feel guilty if I don't log in for a couple days. With no subscription fee, I feel no guilt and no need to commit to the game, or no need cancel it if another game comes along.

Now all is not wine and roses... and the cynic in me can't help but feel that the other shoe is about to drop and that when it does, it is going to cost me a lot of diamonds. But analyzing the pros and cons of RoM and f2p games in general is for another post. For now, I just want to bask in the glow of having cancelled all of my subs... and yet still be enjoying MMOs.