Gon’ Get Married or Gone Honeymoonin’!

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Hi Everyone,

The time has come! Tomorrow is my wedding day and for some strange reason my fiance still sees fit to take the big walk with me. The chain is being attached to her ball come the morn (yes, I’m the ball) and we’ll be whisked away to Disney World for the week after.

As much as I hate to be away and hold onto my Aion, Vanguard, and DDO comments for so long, Mickey’s calling and I can’t ignore the ring.

I’ve been pumped full of adrenaline since this morning. The funny thing is, I’m not nervous about marrying her or having cold feet. For some reason, after the rehearsal I haven’t been able to shake this tickly feeling in my stomach. I’m scared and excited and can’t wait to be someone’s husband.

One funny thing happened this morning during our baptism (neither of us had it done before but each had always wanted to, so this made the perfect opportunity). Here’s how it goes. You’re in a pool in the front of the hall. The pastor puts his hand in front of your face and another behind your back. When he says the word, you bend your knees and lean back into the water.

Yeah, except I guess I suck at leaning because I went back too far and almost pulled the poor guy over. I got myself up, thankfully but not without a little embarrassment. Yeah. I suck at leaning.

Anyways, I’m off to the jewelry shop to pick up Mrs. Raegn’s ring and then off to spend the evening with my dad. Wish me luck on getting to sleep!

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Early Aion Impressions

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Over the past couple of days, I’ve been playing about in China’s Aion open beta. I haven’t made it too far in yet but I’ve been able to form some initial impressions I thought might be worth sharing. I won’t be talking to much about grinding because the Americanized version presumably won’t have it.

First, Aion is very reminiscent of World of Warcraft. The stylized and colorful environment the Asmodian’s start off in reminds me a lot of Zangarmarsh, sans the giant fungi.

There’s a wide variety of imaginative mobs to fight. One of the problems I had with LotRO was that it felt limited because you spent so much time fighting the same wolves and wights… even when you changed zones. Like WoW, Aion doesn’t suffer from this. There are no lore limitations and you can tell that the world designers let their artistic sides loose to create some neat wildlife models.

I rolled a Mage to begin and, unsurprisingly, the class starts off almost identically to the WoW mage with a firebolt skill as the primary attack. Shortly after, you gain a frostbolt type attack. Unlike WoW, you also start off with a root on a longish cooldown.

Since I’m still virtually at the start, it’s hard to say whether or not these comparisons will pan out over time. However, the echoes of warcraft I’ve picked up on only serve to make a better game. Aion may well have taken another cue from WoW by taking what works and building upon it. WoW was a great game in a lot of ways, so I don’t really mind if Aion draws on it.

Second, unlike many bloggers, I’m not drooling over the graphics. Character models are great, they’re on par with LotRO and far surpass WoW, but that’s about it. Environmentally, the game may be a half-step ahead of World of Warcraft but that still leaves it behind a lot of its competitors.

What it lacks in textural detail, it makes up for in style. I don’t think you need ultra-high graphics to make a beautiful game. What you need is artistic design and Aion drives that point home. The environments I’ve played through have been so well realized, that I only took a glancing notice of the “flattened grass” terrain I was running on. Adding to this, if I turn AA off, I can set the graphics to their highest settings and still get 30+ FPS in most places while on my laptop. To put that in perspective, I’m running at 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 3GB DDR2 RAM, and an nVidia 8600GTM 512MB. In short, even an older rig can play this game well and still have it look good.

I have to say too, water in this game is beautiful. It doesn’t suffer from texture quality issues. One of the early quests has you running through a small lake picking flowers. When you come to the lake for the first time, you see that a giant tree grows in the center, glowing with a blue ambiance which lights up the water below. Combined with the reflections of the local greenery and roaming wildlife, it’s like you’re running around through a neon sign.

Third, PvE doesn’t seem to be as lacking as I had worried. Now, it IS the same old thing; however, the game has enough flair to make it interesting rather than mundane. So far. Quest givers tend to talk to you a little bit and give you a good amount of context. Occassionally, you’ll even get a little cutscene that will show you the area you’re heading into or a target mob. Though I couldn’t put my finger right on it, questing in Aion reminded me a lot of playing an older Final Fantasy game. The asian character models may have had a little to do with that though 😉

Going in, Aion seems like it could be a PvE game. If you had no idea that RvR was going to be a part of it, I think a new player could certainly enter in and get the same PvE satisfaction from levelling that first handful of times that they could get with WoW.

Finally, money has a defined importance. Again, I see this as a good thing. I hated how money was virtually worthless in WAR. In Aion, you’re shelling out for a lot of stuff, even going as far as to charge a stipend to bind yourself to a local obelisk (like setting your recall location). However, money doesn’t seem hard to come by. It cost me 100K (k=kinah, their “gold”) to bind. At that point (level 4) I had done enough quests and sold enough to have 1300k already and the potential to receive another 730k from a quest I’d just received. Vendoring mob trash has thus far been a great money maker.

There is one other note I’d like to bring up, in the Chinese version, there is grinding. I know, shocking. It’s not bad though, mostly. Actually, I found it quicker to xp by killing quickly respawning mobs than to complete quests. Most likely, we won’t have such grinding in the American Aion however, so I won’t talk much more about it in the future.

It’s been fun so far. I’ve moved from “bitten and shy” to “cautiously optimistic.” I’ll be honest, there’s a lot that I’m liking so far but I know from experience that a lot can change once you get twenty or thirty levels in. I’m trying to skip the honeymoon here and see the horse for it’s big teeth.

Whatd’ya say, Mr. Ed, shall we log back in?

Aion Tonight… Tomorrow?

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Just a quick update. I’m downloading the Chinese open beta version of Aion at the moment. Hopefully, I’ll have it up and running tonight with the English language fix. Expect a report this week! 🙂

Dungeons and Dragons Online Goes Free to Play

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Here’s something interesting, Dungeons and Dragons Online is turning to a F2P/P2P model. It looks like you can choose to play for free or pay the subscription for some extra perks and a monthly stipend of Turbine Points to use in their RMT store. Check it out here.

More and more, it looks like the industry is moving towards RMT. I’m against unregulated RMT but a bit ambiguous towards the Free Realms/DDO version.

We’ll have to see where this ends up…

Aion Beta: Once Bitten, Twice Shy?

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I caught the itch.

You know the one I’m talking about. That little tingle at the back your neck that says you have to find out more about something. The twinge of longing to take the plunge and try something firsthand. Yeah, I got it, for Aion.

Since I worked all weekend, I missed my chance at the beta but after reading all of the reports I couldn’t help myself and went out and picked up a beta pass from the local Gamestop. As of right now, I’m eagerly waiting for the next beta period. It’s the day before my wedding, so I’ll have the apartment to myself in the evening to give it a good go.

It has a lot of neat things about it, like an NPC faction, flight, and a beautiful lush world. What really convinced me to give it a shot though was that it’s already an established game. And a very successful one at that. From what I’ve read, there’s nearly 100 servers live in the Eastern hemisphere. Nearly a hundred. That’s impressive.

There are a couple of reservations I have, however, and fairly big ones at that. On it’s surface, it looks like a WoW clone. I’m not talking about the UI, although it’s also similar (who cares?), I’m referring towards the gameplay. I’ve watched through a bunch of videos on Youtube and nearly all of them give off a definite WoW vibe. Honestly though, I can deal with that. WoW is successful for a reason.

My biggest worry is that reports of lackluster PvE are about everywhere. Check out AionSource. They have a lot of reviews and great posts up and it’s almost a universal thing. In almost all of those threads, people are popping up and saying that the quest types (kill, collect, etc) are MMO staples and that people are being too critical. Plus, it’s a PvP game.

You know what? I’ve heard that line before when WAR was being hyped up. PvP’ers that claim PvE isn’t important to their game are, frankly, narrow minded drones. PvE is what makes any MMO that requires you to do it to progress. Even a game like WAR that allows you to level completely through RvR suffers immensely from the lack of quality PvE. A game must have more than one primary activity, even if that activity is dynamic, because people will not always be PvPing. I’d argue that an MMORPG that doesn’t give you a wide range of choices isn’t much of an MMO.

But, I’m going on a diatribe here. For all the good Aion has going for it, my early WAR excitement has left me more hesitant to really get excited. I don’t like the idea that the hardest challenge you’ll face in any dungeon (they’re all tank and spank, word has it) is how to absorb a bosses hits. It’s lazy design.

Still, I’m reserving any judgments until I can play it myself. The fact is, PvE quests are relatively standard but the little things (clever bits of scripting, story, animations, locations) can totally change the experience and, as of yet, I’ve heard nothing about that. Just that quests are rote and dungeons are T/S. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic but, like many, I’m looking forward to tearing into something new. If there’s so much overseas success, there must be something to love about it.

Non-MMO fun fact of the day

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For some strange reason, ismokecrack.com redirects to google. New project in the works?!?

We give you GCrack: electrifying the shit out of you since 2009. Hey, we’re a technology company. What the hell did you expect?

I was up late. What can I say?

Early Impressions: Returning to WAR

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My new Choppa, Gutrag

My new Choppa, "Gutrag"

Well, I’ve been playing WAR for about two hours this morning. I’ve had a good time after somewhat of a slow start. Pre-launch my ideal class was a Choppa, so that’s what I decided to go with. It’s a pleasant change from my Sorcerer who just seemed all too weak compared to his strength at level 20. I’m plowing through mobs, which is great for soloing. I have to be careful though because if I get too offensive, my durability drops to the floor. I could see this class being great for soloing.

The downside to this morning is that I’ve encountered a grand total of five other players. I’m not taking that fact to heart however, as it’s early. I’ll be a little more downtrodden if this keeps up into the day when I log back on. The one fact that does bother me a bit is that I’ve yet to have one scenario pop. Again, I know it’s the morning, but for two hours… not one? I’ll reserve judgment until later into this 10-day experiment.

Unlike my last try, I’m approaching this experience a little differently. I’m not trying to get invested in PvE. Last time, I was hoping that WAR would meet all of my gaming desires and was let down. It’s an RvR game, first and foremost, and questing is just a side-activity. So, I’m ignoring most of the quest text and am going to do my best to power through levels as quick as I can to get where the action is.

WAR is a great game, as I’ve always thought. I still see tons of potential for it — if Mythic continues to develop it.

As it stands now, I see three key things that could stand to be changed.

First, speed up the rate of leveling via PvE. Keep oRvR on the top, by far, but I propose that the leveling curve be dropped. 10k exp needed to level to 6? That just seems over the top to me. Why does there need to be such a barrier when the real action begins at the end anyways. One of the most universal complaints about the game is the PvE grind. It just goes on for too long for a game that purports to be about RvR.

PvE should open doors to RvR, not function as something you dread doing by tier 3 or sooner. It needs to be an alternative, not a form of punishment for going against the “main” focus of the game. Make it less rewarding than RvR but less gruesome than it is now. Funnel people towards tier three.

Second, based upon these initial observations (opinions, which are subject to change) more server consolidations need to happen. Pheonix Throne was at medium/medium last night at peak hours. Hell, two out of all of those servers were at medium/medium at max. Every other one was at low/low. To a new player, that just looks bad.

Here’s how I see it. Server consolidations look bad to the masses, yes, but good gameplay can make up for that. Counter the consolidations with advertising and PR. If the game experience makes up for a “shortage” in servers, it’s all the better. If there’s a lack of action at any time throughout the day, it leaves a portion of the playerbase out in the cold and likely to cancel their subscriptions. WAR is great when there’s people, without them it’s lackluster PvE. It’s punishment and who would want to take part in that?

Finally, and this may seem odd given my past stance, I’d say that cross-server scenarios need to be made available. There’s a lot of dispute about this. People say that it destroys server community. I’d probably agree to an extent; however, what’s worse, falling subscription numbers or battling against anonymous people.

The downside to this could be counteracted in two ways: make it optional (give players the choice of “this server” or “cross-server”) or make it need restricted. For example, if there’s a lack of single server scenario activity, the game will “unlock” the cross-server option.

So far, my experiences have been largely positive. I can’t wait to tear into some RvR action. If this experiment goes well, I may make WAR my “subscription game.” Oh, I did mention I actually severed the tie between World of Warcraft and my bank account, right? Yep. Officially cancelled. In the past two months, I’ve spent maybe an hour on the game and, as I mentioned last time we talked, I really had no urge to log on. Not enough happening. So, here we are WAR, we this time make for a new romance?

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