Too many games…

Diablo3_paerokabetaI’m currently waiting for Diablo 3 to arrive. Unfortunately, it seems it won’t be here tomorrow, but hopefully on Thursday then. I got the game during (German) Amazon’s Cyber Monday Week… how silly is that, by the way? Cyber Monday Week. It got released in May 2012 and so far, I’ve never seen it cheap anywhere. The 25€ I paid for it now seemed like a very good deal.

In the end, this could be yet another game in a long list of games that I bought and there are so many that I really want to play, but in the end, don’t. We’re currently planning to play Diablo 3 together, just me and bookahnerk. I got the game for him when it came out and he never got far. So together we can hopefully conquer the world! I also promised I would turn off Skype, twitter, my browser while playing the game together. Fewer distractions that way and more “us time” even if we’re at the PC.

We’re also currently watching the Warlock 2 world Premiere on Twitch. Another game I definitely want to buy when it releases. But Warlock 1 is one of the few games I’ve spent lots of hours playing, so this one will probably at least have a tiny chance. ;)

I think I’d play those kinds of games (meaning: Non-MMOs) much more often if I didn’t play MMOs. Just now, I spent about an hour researching which gear I want for my mesmer after I got some superior traveller runes from ArcherAvatar! Thanks again, you made my day. :D Now I only need to find gear to put them on… hmm… And decide which class I want to play in Diablo 3.

Bookahneer’s Geekwatch (May 12, 2012)

Welcome to today’s Bookahneer’s Geekwatch! The place about miscellaneous interesting news related to gaming (will most likely include at least one piece about Guild Wars 2 ^^).

NCSoft has gotten a new German Community Manager. Please welcome Ramon Domke! I’ve only met him once so far where he was sent to say “Hello” to me from Al’Ellisande. ;) But maybe we get to meet again during GamesCom. Germans may know him from Wartower which is a pretty big German Guild Wars Fansite (I don’t know if it’s *the* biggest. I just know it’s big).

His first day of work will be on Monday (May 14) which is also the day ArenaNet is hosting their next Guild Wars 2 stress test. You can find the announcement here. Our task in this stress test is written down in more detail here. They’re asking us to “rush the servers and crowd Tyria”. In other words: Don’t expect to get to play much. ;)

On Tuesday, May 15, Diablo 3 will finally be released. Now while I haven’t bought the game and probably won’t do it for quite some time (read: until it’s much cheaper), we will get one copy that was bundled with the subscription for a gamer’s magazine I got bookahnerk for Christmas. So we will get to play the game. In order to get back to the setting and the story, we had a look at YouTube and found a few nice videos with the cut scenes from Diablo and Diable 2. You can start watching them here (for Diablo) or here (for Diablo 2). Those videos show the cut scenes and the most important conversations within the game. If you just want to see Diablo 2’s cut scenes, you can find them here.

Also, don’t forget that the Newbie Blogger Initiative is still running until the end of the month. If you’ve ever wanted to start your own gaming blog, now is the perfect time to do so!

Diablo 3 beta – or: Why I preordered Torchlight 2 instead

Let me start by saying that I truly enjoyed what I’ve seen about Diablo 3 per se. Neither bookahnerk nor I have found any bugs so far which just seems to be typical for Blizzard. Their betas are usually rather polished already (at least, from what I’ve heard and seen so far). One flaw, however, is that we didn’t see the intro video. I looked for it and then played it and it does help explain a few things. For example, why they’re talking about a fallen star. ;) I hadn’t read too much about Diablo 3 before starting the open beta. I’d seen a few screenshots and read about a few changes but that’s nothing compared to what I’ve read and seen about Guild Wars 2 so far. ;)

What I really liked about Diablo 3 so far is some of the game’s sounds. Not the music (although I like the soundtrack as well) but rather the sounds that are familiar from Diablo 2 like the coins that are dropped from dead mobs. It just adds enough nostalgic flavour. And Deckard Cain, of course! Another thing I really liked were the book cases that you can click on. They usually don’t seem to drop anything at all and if they do, it’s a few coins or a healing potion. However, the animation when clicking on a bookcase shows stuff falling out of the bookcase – including a few scrolls that have red and blue bands around them. Oooh, they look vaguely familiar. If only I knew where I’ve seen them before. ;) Unfortunately, those scrolls aren’t in the game. At a certain point in your storyline, you get a teleport skill that you can use whenever you want. And while there are items that need to be identified, it’s just done by right-clicking and waiting until the cast bar went through. I mentioned the music a few moments ago and if you’re looking for songs that sound like Diablo 2, you have to go play Torchlight (1 and 2) because Matt Uelmen who composed the soundtrack for Diablo and Diablo 2 is working for RunicGames now and has composed the Torchlight 1 and 2 soundtracks. Russell Brower apparently composed the soundtrack for Diablo 3 (among others).

The graphics are similar to Torchlight and not what I would expect from a Diablo game. I actually like the gothic look that Diablo 2 had and I would have preferred to have this graphic style again instead of the more comic-looking style that we have now. I don’t think it’s too bright and colourful but… well, a bit more dark/grey would have been great. ;) Despite its not so good graphics quality (and the too tiny resolution for today’s monitors), I found them fitting for the game as everything seemed more mysterious and serious in a way. I don’t mind WoW’s comic graphics but in Diablo, I’d prefer the old Diablo style. Oh well, it’s not like Diablo 3 really had WoW’s comic style. It’s just closer to it. And at the same time, I don’t mind it at all in Torchlight (or Torchlight 2 for that matter). It’s just the different expectations here based on the previous Diablo game. I did upload a few screenshots and I’m sure that if you’re interested in Diablo 3, you’ve had a look at videos and screenshots, etc. already, so this is nothing new for you. ;)

I’ve played the Demon Hunter class and it was lots of fun. At first, I feared that you really just unlock a new skill every few levels and then choose which ones you want to use but the system is a bit more complex than that. You have your left-click and right-mouseclick skill. You’ll get to choose between four different ones for left-clicking and four different ones for right-clicking. They’re unlocked one after another, depending on your level. Each of those skills can also have one active rune (out of 5 each) which again get unlocked the higher your level is. The different runes give its skill an added effect: more damage, a higher number of enemies hit, longer duration, etc. Then you have four action bar skills which in the demon hunter’s case use a different resource than her mouse-clicking abilities. They work the same way than your mouse-clicking abilities: You can choose out of several ones that you unlock the higher your level gets. And then you unlock 5 runes for each of those skills (also more the higher your level is) and can choose which rune you want for which skill and then you choose which skills you want to use. It seems that there’s no respeccing necessary. You can switch skills around whenever you want. Starting with level 10, you also unlock passive abilities (again, you don’t need to do anything. You unlock the first two with level 10 and choose one. With level 13, you get an additional choice etc. up to 15 different passive skills to choose from at level 50. With level 20 and 30, you get an additional slot for a passive skill which means that you can have three passive skills with level 30. All in all, that’s a lot to choose from! And since you can switch whenever you want (I didn’t see any limits here), you don’t need to be afraid to do something wrong. That was one of the problems I had with Diablo 2. While I loved the game, I was too afraid to mess up and having to start over again, so I ended up just not playing much at all after a while. ;)

The storyline seems interesting and I’d certainly want to find out more and play through the story. The classes also seem interesting even though I’ve only played one so far. I wanted to concentrate on one and see what this game has to offer. If I had decided to buy it, I would have had enough time to figure out which class I want to play.

Unfortunately, and now we come to the one big point that makes me stay away from this game for now, it was rather difficult to actually start playing the beta on Friday. The servers were busy and I didn’t get to play at all. I didn’t even realise the “flaw” in this “logic” here, at first. Yesterday morning, I finally succeeded and got online. I played for a bit and reached level 6. Then it happened: I got disconnected and after half an hour, I got back online… to find myself back at level 5. Yay for rollbacks! I get it, they’re basically stress-testing and things like that can happen. But then it dawned on me: This isn’t an MMO, nor is it an online game. I was playing the single-player game. Once upon a time, those were offline games. Once upon a time, there were no server issues and rollbacks with single-player offline games. I remember clearly how I could play Diablo 2 in my room with no problems even though the internet wasn’t reliable in that room, because I didn’t need the internet for the single-player part!

And this very thing is what will hold me back from buying the game (unless… maybe… its cost is reduced to something like 10€ in the distant future). I want to be able to play single player games whenever I feel like it and not rely on the game servers to be accessible. Especially as I don’t see a reason for why they should do this. Diablo 2 already had the single player part and the coop, the multiplayer and online part. It also had LAN-mode. In that regard, it offered more. But now they took that back and force me to be online all the time even if I just play the “offline” part. And I guess they can’t give me a guarantee that rollbacks won’t happen again or that I’m suddenly disconnected or that I can’t even start the game because I regularly play on weekend evenings when a zillion other players decide to play as well and the servers get overloaded… or maybe I’ll get to stare at a waiting queue until there’s a free spot on the servers for me… to play the single-player game.

We will have one copy of Diablo 3 in this household, though, because I gave bookahnerk a 6 months subscription for a gaming magazine for Christmas and as a special, they added a bonus of our choice (the decision fell on a copy of Diablo 3 once it’s released). And as I said, I’ve really enjoyed the game per se. But I dislike this always-online part of the game enough to not buy the game for 50€ or whatever they want for it on release.

So why did I preorder Torchlight 2 instead? Diablo 3 showed me that I really want a game like Torchlight and Diablo. Torchlight 1 has the problemt that it lacks multiplayer (I don’t use it often but I do like playing with bookahnerk once in a while) and the story… oooh, the story. Not so good. Hopefully, Torchlight 2 will be better. They will have a LAN mode and I can play the game offline. It will also just cost 20€ which is a lot cheaper than Diablo 3. And what I really love is that you have pet companions. Tell me how you can top a ferret companion (watch the video with the pets here)! Of course, the game doesn’t have the gothic graphics. ;) And I do find it odd how often the release date has been pushed back so far. But I’ve only preordered the game, not prepurchased it. So there’s no harm done yet. ;) Of course, there’s also no need for deciding only for one and not the other. If you like both, you can play both. However, I don’t think I would need two such games. Especially if one is considerably more expensive.

I wonder how many other people will decide not to get Diablo 3 because of its policy of forcing you to be online and connected to a server at all times? And how many will not care just because it’s Blizzard and Diablo. In the end, if you do decide to get the game, I think you’ll get a good and solid game… and let’s just hope their servers will be stable (and more stable than Ubisoft’s servers ^^).

Bookahneer’s Geekwatch (August 1)

Welcome to today’s Bookahneer’s Geekwatch! The place about LotRO, Guild Wars 2 and any other interesting news related to gaming.

First things first, I found it amusing to read a dispute between several players in the Warhammer Online forum. The short of it: Mythic was at GamesDay in the USA (I forgot which city it was in. Sorry). A (former?) player asked some questions and got some uncomfortable answers. The worst one would be:
Me Q: So what you’re saying is Mythic is gonna stand back and do nothing while the game is going to hell?

Prod A: The game will stay up for the hardcore dedicated players as long as we got them the game isn’t going anywhere. We still have Ultima Online and DAoC and we’re adding new content for them.

However, he apparently misunderstood when James Casey talked about Rift and how some former members of Mythic worked on that game. And there’s still the question whether Shadow Warriors will get more Crowd Control or not. So what I quoted above is also questioned. Is it true or not? If you ask me personally, I’d say that the patch history and how much was added to the game since its release (compared to what was taken out) speaks volumes.

Edit: Artiee published a recording of the Q&A. It’s hard to understand but what I could hear basically confirms the quoted answer above. Still not really a surprise, I guess. But they did confirm that there are no resources for new content like a new class etc.

Not an MMO, but still a game I’m interested in: Diablo 3. This game will offer an auction house where players can sell items for real money. You’ll be able to see items and also characters! Apart from that, another sentence stood out: It was also confirmed that the game will require an internet connection to play at all times. I love having games on my laptop that I can play wherever I take it without having to be online. Germany isn’t known for its wide access to WLAN hotspots or other cheap methods to go online when away from your home access. ;)

For interested readers who are capable of German, I’ll give you three more links: Diablo 3 im Hands-on-Test, Item-Handel gegen echtes Geld und Jay Wilson im Interview. – The following might be a “good to know” for concerned WoW players: “Ich glaube nicht, dass unser Echtgeld-Auktionshaus auch in World of Warcraft funktionieren könnte.” Translation: I do not think that a real-money auction house would also work in World of Warcraft. So hopefully, we will never see something like that in WoW.

Guild Wars 2 will hopefully bring us some cool information at GamesCom. On the list of things to show is the Charr starter region, mid-level play for Sylvari AND Asuras, all 7 professions (which means we will probably not see the last class revealed there), finally more information about PvP in Guild Wars 2 and last but not least, the character customization! The latter is probably the most exciting part for me. Call me odd but I usually spend a lot of time making sure my character looks the way I want it to. Of course, knowing more about the PvP systems is also high up on my priority list. I can’t wait to get into PvP again (preferrably without having to worry about item spirals and sucking not because I can’t play my class but because it’s horribly undergeared).

Last but not least, Lord of the Rings Online talked about itemization with the upcoming expansion, Rise of Isengard. When I read the first two paragraphs, my heart sank a little. Fortunately, it gets better when you keep reading. I am just not a fan of the whole item spirals. I also do not get why a character should become more and more and more powerful because of super awesome gear. But at least, they will offer some good items to everybody no matter their playstyle. I would assume that this also makes balancing content easier. If you need to balance quests around players that have super-awesome-über gear and players in regular-standard-unter gear, I’d assume that it’s either too hard for the latter or too easy for the first group (I’m looking at you, World of Warcraft!).

SWTOR release on the horizon & my thoughts about it.

E3 is over and some new videos, cinematics and information about Star Wars: The Old Republic and its content were released. While I absolutely understand the hype when I watch those very detailed cinematics and enjoy every glimpse of story they do contain, I am also a little worried about the low amount of information about gameplay content, mechanics and how all the new information is published.

So I tried to rationalize a bit why and by which aspects I feel so torn between anticipation and disappointment. Here are some of them:

Damn yeah, it’s Star Wars! I am totally sucked into that universe the moment I hear any part of the many well known themes or sound effects and who could resist the urge to explore all the landscapes we know from the films and games and taking our role in their “history”.

The cinematics created by “Blur” do their part very well, but that’s no wonder. If you’ve been playing computer games for quite a while you surely know one or more trailers they did. Just take a look at their listed work. In a more negative way, some of the titles made me realize that a brilliant trailer and a beloved IP (intellectual property) does not automatically result in an awesome and successful game or hint in any way at the overall quality or content.

Speaking of the brilliant IP, “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is not the first Star Wars MMORPG.
While the prosperous days of “Star Wars Galaxies” are a long time ago and there are, not only for me, reasons to compare the two, BioWare already stated in more than one interview that their game should be considered fundamentally different. I’m not sure if that makes it better for me.
I liked Star Wars Galaxies for its wide terrain, plastered with player houses and -cities and a very complex, deep and time-consuming crafting and player economy, but there was maybe a lack of guided story and predefined endgame the time I played it, which was pre-NGE.

SWG comes from and maybe marks the end of the era of sandbox-MMOs. Compared to that BioWare’s new attempt seems to fit perfectly to the less free and deep but extremely entertainment oriented and easily accessible family of themepark-MMOs.

Considering the amount of different MMORPGs and the variation in their mechanics I was a little surprised that in the last year their announcements were mainly centred around features I love to see in offline RPGs, like an immense amount of decision-making while developing your character, the extensive storyline or the full voice-over. Now my question is whether that is enough to keep player numbers high and if that is the content MMO-players are seeking nowadays, especially considering the possible pricing like the other MMOs in EA’s portfolio, e.g. “Ultima Online”, “Dark Age of Camelot” and “Warhammer Online”. Each of them not blessed with a large community anymore but still with a monthly fee of around 15$/13€.

Sure, the game will contain more content than the story part but most of the mechanics I have read/heard about I have already seen in some kind of variation in other MMOs. Thus, I do not find variety or improvement when it comes to the every day content aside from the hopefully brilliant RPG-part.

In the case of space combat it is in my opinion a lot worse. I feel taken back to ’93 when “Star Wars: Rebel Assault” when railway space-combat felt innovative and entertaining.

Until now there is no definite release date but according to an interview with Frank Gibeau (President of EA Games) the game will definitely release this year! Well, in the same interview he said that the game has 6 classes. I hope Bioware is aware of both. That may be not that dramatic but when you take a look at his profile at EA’s homepage he states that he is playing the game. O.o ;)

More seriously though, I do hope that does not show how EA as the publisher defines the time frame for the game’s developers and puts them under pressure to release the game even if it may not be complete, polished and balanced. Releasing a game unfinished or cut (imho in the case of EA & Mythic: again!) may reduce the development costs and make you a quick buck but may turn an MMMO into a one day fly at the market despite its potential. Are MMOs not naturally aiming for continuous income, but what if EA or investors could use their margin for this fiscal year?

Another reason to push this game into the market this year could be that the later it gets, the more they would have to place it against Guild Wars 2 and TERA. But I have to say, if I lean back and take a more distant look at the kind of MMO they will be, I do not see one of them as BioWare’s main competitor. Sure, both belong to the MMO-genre but in my opinion TERA will be a niche game in the “western market” due to its Asian style, different controls and overdone sexiness. It probably attracts a different kind of player than SWTOR and should have less impact on sold boxes and monthly income. Guild Wars 2 may attract the same players but as a buy-to-play. If the release dates differ more than a month, many will take a look at both games like I have said in another blog entry or may leave Guild Wars again even if only temporarily to test SWTOR, because you can return spontaneously whenever and for how long you want without the monthly fee. Also Massively has some interesting thoughts about the competition between the these two.

The main competitor I see is Blizzard. But no, not with a meagre patch for WoW with some raid content, instances, a new area or more dailies to keep the playerbase busy.
The largest threat I see rising is Diablo 3. At the first thought that may sound surprising because it’s not sorted into the branch of MMOs but it has many parallels. It’s a time consuming game in which you can easily spend every minute of your free time in for a few months. It has (like Guild Wars 2) only an entry fee.

But as my strongest arguments: it is from Blizzard, it is highly anticipated, and I see many indicators that Activision/Blizzard and EA/BioWare are very concerned about how polished their games are and when they could release the games. So welcome to the release date poker.

If I take a look into my crystal ball and do a bit of rough guesswork I see Diablo 3 being placed against SWTOR would be in so much ways beneficial for Blizzard and could massively hurt EA and the succeeding development of SWTOR. Imagining that about 5% of WoW’s subscribers are bored with the game and craving for a new refreshing time sink or the holy grail in another game like many times before, we would be talking about 250.000 subscribers in the Western market. Not counting in the Eastern market here because the payment models are usually different there.

For Blizzard that may not be that dramatic. The number of subscribers usually fluctuates between patches, but for a new game on the market that is a great deal and could be a solid part of the playerbase. At least, this would be a fine number of sold boxes to please the publisher and investors.

With those 250.000 players, especially in the long run, I see a bigger value than just their bought boxes and paid subs. If a new game does not only want to peak high at release but also wants to maintain a larger amount of players, they have to build and establish a stable and growing community. So it would be beneficial to get as many players as possible which are connected with each other. That’s the point where Blizzard could intervene. They will be losing players but it would be wise to lure them to Diablo 3 to keep them in their Battle.Net.

Blizzard has already stated years ago that the day will come that WoW’s playerbase finally peaks and then starts declining due to players moving on to other games. In the same statement they also mentioned that they hope that this other game will be one of their own ones. So why not do it this time? Yes, we do not know how finished the games really are at the moment and if it is possible for Blizzard to already announce Diablo 3 as finished and that it can be shipped within weeks but if it is, I see no reason why they should not wait until EA makes their move.

Compared to EA, Blizzard has the financial background that they can easily delay the game for months, even the development teams would not have to sit there eating up money. They could polish, balance and optimise the game even more or already start to work on an add-on.

Not an easy environment to release a new MMO in, I admit. One of the biggest selling points I see is the IP and that BioWare may attract a lot of fans because they are trusted for their good RPGs. Also, it’s Star Wars and a science fiction-setting. There is not such a huge number of AAA-MMOs as in the fantasy section. I may guess heavily here and there is absolutely no proof except for my experiences and my personal preferences when I say that I think that the game will have about 1,2 – 1,8 million sold boxes in the first months (which would be more than Warhammer Online, Rift or Aion achieved). Heavily depending on who they are up against, of course.

But after that, I see the game drop to 600.000 – 900.000 after about 6 months like most of the games in the past years did when the MMO-tourists leave, the game turns out to be not like anticipated, friends don’t join in or in the worst case the storyline and RPG-Part is done multiple times and the rest lacks that entertaining quality.

Finally, I have to admit that at the moment I don’t see myself buying this game on the first day, even if I do love Star Wars but I wish to be proven totally wrong and that the game is in fact brilliant because I like BioWare for what they did before they were bought by EA and merged with Mythic. I want to see diversity, creativity and a tough competition between several high quality games on the market.

May the force be with you, BioWare!

Edit: Another article about Star Wars: The Old Republic from Massively.