a spark

Three years…!

I didn’t mean to totally disappear. I thought for sure I’d post occasional updates, because I never stopped gaming.  Whenever I wandered here to read my old posts, however, I liked that the blog encapsulated my WoW experience so completely.  I started writing here when I was still new to WoW and to MMO’s, bright-eyed and alt-addicted and a little bit scared of PvP.  As I wrapped up, I had raiding fatigue, social burnout, and also knew I’d need to make a clean break from the game within the year anyway…

…because I was pregnant! We had our baby in the fall of 2010.  Knowing that big life change was coming made quitting the game even easier. Part of me wonders if it intensified my reactions to the various things happening in the guild. I’m not just talking about the hormones either. It’s easier to quit something you’ve been doing for a long time if you’re convinced you don’t like it.  I really had started to hate parts of it, too, like the raid leadership. 

I played on and off very casually after leaving my guild. I rerolled on a new server with different friends and unsubbed sometime before the kiddo was born.  Obviously, having a baby didn’t leave me with a lot of time or energy to play, but when Cataclysm was released, I couldn’t resist looking over my husband’s shoulder to see how the landscape in Azeroth had changed.  All it took was a single flight over Thousand Needles and I was at my battle.net account page putting in my credit card number.  I played very differently than I had when I was a raider and guild officer, of course, but it was a rather nice way to relax.  I liked the new content, too. I wasn’t a big fan of how they’d changed the priest mechanics, however, so ended up giving shaman healing a try and really loved it. (And so continued my tradition of changing mains with the expansion because I didn’t like the class changes. Same thing happened between BC and Wrath with my hunter.)

Blizzard then suckered me in with the one-year sub + D3 deal. Once D3 came out I never played WoW again. I might write more about D3 at some point, but for now I’ll just say that for as excited as I was about that announcement, and the possibility of playing with all my D2 friends that couldn’t bring themselves to pay a monthly sub for WoW, the game didn’t have nearly the longevity for me that I hoped it would.  This is for a multitude of reasons. My game time was much more limited, it was hard to find overlapping time with friends, etc, but ultimately the game was to blame, too. It just wasn’t that interesting to me to gear myself through the auction house.  In fact, the auction house was pretty much the only “mini-game” and the rest was was going through the same content over and over.  Snooze.  What a disappointment.

I played odds and ends of MMO’s when I could, but one of the other new limiting factors was that I’d switched to a mac.  Of course EVE Online has always had a mac version, but there wasn’t much else to choose from if I didn’t want to play WoW. There are more mac clients now (LotRO and GW2, I’m told), but the new games that tempted me (Rift, The Secret World) did not have them. Alas. I did sub to EVE for a while and had a stint with a fun/promising corp there (and I’ll surely write about this in another entry), but ended up dropping my subscription when we bought our house.  (That’s another hefty timesucker.)  The only other game I played at length was Glitch. (RIP.)

As an aside, I told myself that the distance from gaming was a really good thing, because one of my other goals was to write a novel.  (This was part of my plan when I quit freelancing.)  I fiddled around with various writing projects while I was pregnant, but didn’t really get a foothold on any of them. I took a lengthy break from writing after kiddo was born and began a new project in earnest when he was about a year old.  I started meeting every week with one of my old guildies (who happens to be a local) because he was writing, too.  It took a little more than a year, but I finally completed a full draft.  I’m working on revisions now.  (Yay?)

And so what sparked the comeback? I was looking for another writing outlet, certainly, and I have missed gaming, but it also has to do with my son.  He’s 2.5 now and is beginning to show an interest in computer games.  He’s not picking this up at home — he has never seen us play games before.  We don’t have a tablet for him or anything like that either.  Instead, he’s started playing with the kids’ terminals at the public library.  Some of the games he likes are deadly boring (so he may have inherited my husband’s infinite capacity for doing dailies), but it’s still fascinating to watch him play them.  It took him a few weeks to get the hang of using a mouse, but he’s pretty good at it now (though he almost always right-clicks before he left-clicks, maybe because the mouse is so big in his tiny hand).

He gets frustrated with the games from time to time because, well, he’s two, but also because the games don’t do what he expects. He already thinks every element in the environment should be responsive in some way if he clicks on it.  If he can see a place, he wants to be able to go there.  He doesn’t like it when the characters gab at him for too long. (He inherits that one from me.)  It’s interesting.  Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that he has opinions about game design, because he certainly has opinions about everything else.

The combination of all of these things got me thinking about the blog here again. I’ve already got some posts in mind. My feed reader has more than 100 dead gaming blogs in it, but I’ve been sifting through those and catching up a bit. (I see I wasn’t the only one disappointed with D3, heh heh…)

So, here we go again? Let’s see what happens.

And what are you playing?

Burnout Achieved

I mainly blame the dungeon finder.  Yes, it is an amazing feature of the game and I could not get enough of it when it first came out.  Unfortunately, I overindulged, and now I cannot stomach those same old heroics anymore. “Daily random anyone?” a guildmate says, and I get an overwhelmingly weary feeling.  I can’t even be arsed to collect my 2 frost emblems per day any more.

I am not enjoying raiding anymore either.  There are a lot of reasons behind this one and I won’t bother to go into details here.  This is easily the most depressing development in my WoW career and I’ve been tempted to unsub and disappear because of the circumstances surrounding it.  I always loved raiding  — it was my favorite part of the game.  Now, I’m always hoping my husband will want to do something else on raid nights, so we’ll have an excuse not to go.  The team I’m currently raiding with is pretty fun, so I do enjoy myself when I go, but I have a suspicion I wouldn’t miss it if I quit.

I’m still working on achievements, but somewhat half-heartedly.  I’ve had the top achievement totals in the guild for a while now (thanks to one of our achievement hounds taking a long hiatus and someone with an uncatchable score quitting the guild, hehe), but there are a couple of people nipping at my heels now.  I confess I look forward to them overtaking me so that I don’t have to worry about staying on top any more.  I’ve always made it a point not to be too competitive about achievements, but I expect a lot of smack talk when I fall to the #2 position.

The Cure

I don’t know that there is one.  I do still care a lot about many of the people in the guild.  I’m proud of the community that we have.  I want to stick around, so I’m going to try.

One thing that’s helped is getting back into pvp a bit.  The random battleground finder might be a great thing if the guild were to reinstitute “drunken pvp night,” too.  I’d love to see that happen.

I have also rolled a sekrit shaman for when I do not feel like dealing with specific people in the guild.  It’s totally felt like a vacation and not just for the lack of interpersonal garbage.  There’s no pressure to gear up, run heroics, nothing like that… it’s just me running around with a big stick and smacking peons.  I miss that carefree phase of the game.

And Then There Was Balance

This is all part of the natural order of things, I realize. All these symptoms point firmly to burnout, down to every detail on Nick Yee’s chart.  I’m finally there.

I suppose one could say that a bit of the depression I’m feeling is remorse for time ill-spent, slack-jawed at my computer screen while my husband and cats try to get my attention.  I’m sure that’s part of it, though I’m sure if I hadn’t been playing WoW, I’d have been sitting slack-jawed elsewhere, not using my time any more wisely.  I’m not, by nature, an extraordinarily productive person. :)

Unless Cataclysm hits by beginning of summer (fat chance), I can’t see how I’ll last much longer than that unless something miraculous happens or I make some major changes in how I play.  There is just not that much left to do and if it’s not fun, why do it?

The good part of burnout is that I do feel like some balance has been restored in my life.  I don’t feel the compulsion to log into WoW every spare moment.  I have still play several hours per week, but I have gone back to playing other games on the side.  (I had a long Civ IV session yesterday — it was so awesome!)  My husband and I have started watching movies again, plus a couple of tv series on DVD.  I have finally gotten around to cleaning out our office closet and have some other similar projects on the horizon.  So, it’s not all bad.  This is more similar to what “normal” people, even normal MMO players do, I suspect.

Random Dungeon Slot Machine

I finally had a chance to play around with the new Random Dungeon feature in WoW…

The Good

As a healer, I get into random groups immediately.  Like, within seconds.  I first tried the new system out on Wednesday night.  I was planning to do some old world quests while waiting (tinkering with achievement stuff) and didn’t even make it to the Orgrimmar portal in Dalaran before being summoned for my first healing assignment.  Wow.

A moment later, my group and I were assembled inside the instance, which was … Not Oculus!  Yay!  ;)  It was Nexus.  Easy peasy.  We blew through the place.  We greeded and disenchanted our way through most of the greens and blues, and the shaman got the healing mace for his offspec from Keristraza at the end.

The run was very business-like, too.  I was afraid that the random dungeons would be to pugs what battlegrounds are to Wintergrasp.  With no reputation to worry about, people were going to be the worst kinds of jerkfaces to one another.  Not so in any of the runs I’ve been on so far.  We had one tank tantrum (which I’ll talk about in the next section), but other than that people have been … professional?  Sounds weird, but I think that’s the right word.  Quite a surprise.

And as soon as one random dungeon run ends, I’ve noticed it’s very difficult to not queue for another immediately.  This new feature has eliminated much of what makes pugging so maddening:  the waiting.  You have to wait to get the appropriate roles filled, then you have to wait for people to finish doing whatever they were doing, then you have to wait for them to go back and repair because they forgot, or wait because their friend who needs help with Chillmaw just logged in, etc, etc.  Now, if you want to run a dungeon, there’s more immediate gratification.  That plus the unknown of what dungeon you might get gives it a sort of slot machine quality.  If I know I’m going to be online for at least 30 minutes, it’s hard for me not to queue up.

The Bad

I’ve noticed a trend with the tanks in these random dungeons.  They are ALL chainpulling.  While this can make it fun and interesting in many cases, it can also get the group into trouble.  The first random pug I ran with had an excellent bear tank.  He always stopped before bosses and if he ever noticed me at half mana, he asked if I wanted to stop and drink.  Most of the time the answer was “no,” but there were a few times were I was pretty low before a boss pull, so I’d mana up at least halfway.

In the next pug, however, the tank was not paying attention to the rest of the group at all and it did cause issues. We were in heroic Drak’tharon run and we had just finished killing King Drek.  People were milling around the body, looting, etc.  I stayed with the group and sat down to regen my mana.  Then I noticed the tank on my grid bar, out of range, with his health dropping rapidly. He had run up the stairs and started killing things by himself.

“Maybe you should have waited for us,” said the rogue, as the tank’s health dropped to zero.  The mobs started running down the stairs after us.  The rest of us were far enough ahead that we could likely get to the entrance, so we ran.  The tank asked why we hadn’t followed, and we said that we were waiting for the looting to finish, folks were getting mana back, etc.  “All of you?” he said.

“Everyone else was down here except you,” said the hunter.

We ran to the entrance.  I was the first one out the front door and as I stepped through, I honestly wasn’t sure where I’d end up.  Turns out I appeared in Dalaran on my home server … Oops.  I told the group where I was.  “It’s okay,” said the rogue.  “Just click on the eye to port back.”  I looked around for an eye.  Thanks to my addon which hides most of the buttons on my minimap, I didn’t see it right away.  In the moments before I found it, the tank quit the group.

After a brief discussion of the tank’s departure (turns out he was a member of the notorious Goon Squad, by the way), we decided to pick up another tank for the remainder of the instance.  Two folks turned it down (since it was a partial dungeon run at this point), but the third person offered the spot took it and helped finish it off.

Anyway, I have a feeling he won’t be the last tank to do something like that and get himself (or all of us) killed.  Another of the random dungeons I got was Utgarde Keep (if this is a slot machine, I think that might be the jackpot of easiness) and the tank decided to pull the entire group of protodrakes at once.  I’m a well-geared healer, but  I don’t think he was geared as well as he thought he was.  He was unable to hold aggro on all of the mobs so there was tons of party damage.  I managed to keep everyone alive except the boomkin. After being rezzed, the boomkin said, “lol fun,” so I guess he wasn’t too bothered.  I’m just not looking forward to the day I get blamed for crap like that.  I know it will happen.

Overall, I think this is a great addition to the game and could be quite good for our guild.  I worry a little about it being too easy to find a random group (it’s now faster to put together a random group than a guild one), but in the long run, it probably won’t change our guild culture much.  Folks do like running things together, and we do still have a subset of non-puggers who will always prefer the guild.

Beyond that, those hungry to run dungeons all the time will be able to find groups to do so, while the folks in the guild that aren’t in the mood to farm badges can do whatever they want and not feel guilty.  Folks may feel more inclined to gear up their alts, knowing they won’t always be depended upon in a particular role.  There are a few achievements and a pet that I’m looking forward to picking up from running the dungeons, as well…

And speaking of… it’s just after 5.  I wonder how many random dungeons I can get in before the raid tonight… ;)

Do you hate Oculus?

I do. I absolutely loathe the place.  I’ll run any other heroic any time, but Oculus is the one that you have to twist my arm for.  “It’s not hard,” my guildmate who doesn’t mind the place keeps telling me. Yes, I know it’s not hard.  I know how to do the encounters and am capable of executing them.  I just don’t enjoy them.  Like,  not at all.

This hatred was born in pick-up groups back in the months after Wrath was released.  It seemed everyone’s cluelessness was amplified to unbearable degrees in Oculus.  It was mainly in the “fly around and stay together” part.  There was always someone who got lost or fell behind and then pulled additional mobs and wiped the group.  Wipe recovery meant navigating back to our previous spot through three dimensions (evidently rather confounding for some).  Worse, sometimes people would lose their drake-summoning thing and have to go back to get another one, meaning they’d have to navigate through all the skipped mobs yet again (sometimes just to die again immediately).

Once, we got so tired of a person losing their drake repeatedly that we instead had the warlock in the group summon them whenever we landed on a platform.  So, you know the boss that ports himself from platform to platform?  Yeah, we summoned this player in between the fight on each platform.  I’m sure you’re wondering how we even got the final boss down.  It ended up being a non-issue, as we didn’t get Mr. Portalpants down before two people had to leave for dinner.

I have run Oculus with my guild and we don’t have such problems, obviously.  We’re usually in vent, too, while we run heroics, so that makes it even easier to communicate and stay together.  Even so, I have had such rotten experiences there in the past, I do not have fun in there even when going in with my very competent guildies.

So, I hate to say it, but Blizz’s “fix” in the 3.3 patch, which nerfs Oculus in and attempt to make it more appealing, isn’t going to make the place any less painful for me.  It really was not the difficulty level, it was the design.  Plus, my hatred of the place has now grown to such unreasonable proportions, I think the only way to repair it would be to blow the place up and fully redesign it. (I know that’s not really an option.)

I know I’m not the only one that hates the place.  I don’t know anyone that loves it, but those that feel neutral about it seem to have some other place in WoW that they can’t stand.  Uldaman, Magister’s Terrace, Gnomeregan, and Wailling Caverns come up a lot in these discussions.  All the complaining about Oculus seems to have caught Blizz’s attention, however. I suppose their changes to it might reduce the incidence of folks running against the wall and alt-F4’ing out of their LFG groups. (Might.)

Going to War

No, not Warhammer (though that is on my list of games to play and review)… my Ikariam alliance!  We have gone to war!

I’d been idly playing Ikariam during the day, in between working on my magnum opus and checking the guild forums.  My five towns were doing well, but  the game was beginning to slow a bit for me.  I don’t have the military to start farming inactive people (which is the type of pillaging that my defense-oriented alliance generally supports), so I was left to just expand my population, beef up my defenses, upgrade buildings, and discover new technologies.  I was pretty much in maintenance mode hoping to eventually expand to a sixth town and maybe someday a seventh.  (This is *very* expensive and definitely a long term goal.)  I spent most of my time trading with my alliance and making sure me resources were well-protected.

Then, there were some rumblings in the last couple weeks.  Someone got pillaged by a member of an alliance that we had fought with in the past.  They called for aid, but our leadership said that the terms of the cease fire from the previous war stated that one-on-one battles (as this had been) were permitted between people with scores within 20K.  Additional retribution from our alliance could bring about another war, which they hoped to discourage.  The last one was very costly, apparently.

The pillaging victim backed down, but the needling continued.  There were additional reports of pillaging.  Then, the final straw: a 3:1 attack on one of our alliance members after he helped defend someone on his island who was being pillaged by our enemy.  Our leader contacted the enemy and explained the recent violations of the agreements that ended our last war, concluding: “Cease Attacks or War it is.”  In the hours that followed, we got our answer.  The attacks began.  War!  Raaar!

At first, I was afraid that we were not organized enough.  A lot of people were offering troops and resources toward the war effort, but it was unclear where to send them.  In the meantime, our membership unleashed herds of spies on the enemy’s towns to identify weak spots and possible points of entry.  Eventually, a few people offered their cities as staging grounds, giving us some coordinates to concentrate on.  It was not quite the organized assault I was expecting, but troops were deployed, cities near our enemies were infiltrated and occupied, and we began our own attacks.

I helped out by sending sulfur to those capable of making strong military units.  I have loads of good defensive units, but none of the advanced offensive units are available to me yet. Our alliance boards were updated with brief messages every few minutes to let us know how the battles were going.  One of our leaders described the cat and mouse game he had going with one of the enemy alliance’s leaders.  Troops were being shuffled and and mysteriously scattered, among other things.  As the evening’s battle intensified, the enemy leader sent this message to ours:

“You seem to be very fast and slippery. As of now you seem to be able to avoid my troops, but your [sic] going to sleep sometime.”

:-o

So, before I went to bed, I deployed 200 defensive troops, 100 to each of the staging sites that I had seen listed.  Initially I had decided I’d best stay off the radar, but really, what fun would that be?

(I don’t think I’d have the time to play it, but all of this makes me want to resub to EVE!)

First Impressions — Dragon Age: Origins (PC Version)

Full Disclosure

First, I received a free copy of Dragon Age: Origins when the folks marketing the game for Bioware asked me to review it, but of course, this will not impact my review.

Second, the only Bioware game that I’ve played at any length is Neverwinter Nights.  (I’m not even talking NWN2 — I mean the original.)  We have copies of Baldur’s Gate and Knights of the Old Republic around, though I’ve never played them myself. (I believe my husband has.)  In anticipation of Dragon Age, I did pick up Mass Effect on Steam and played for several hours.  So, I can make some superficial comparisons there, but nothing more.  I certainly know of Bioware’s reputation for strong storytelling in their RPG’s.

Third, I am primarily an MMO player and my primary MMO is World of Warcraft.  I have played a few other MMO’s recently and dabbled in some puzzle games, but I have not put solid playtime into a single-player RPG in more than five years.  My thoughts will likely be most useful to those coming from a similar background. Below are my first impressions of the game and I’ll likely put together another review after I have played through it in its entirety.

The Grey Wardens and the Darkspawn

There is evil rising in your world, the history of which is nicely set up in the opening cinematic.  Standard hero story set-up, but it’s neatly delivered.  I liked the style and tone.  I still rewatch this as each of my new characters begins their journey.

Character Creation

In choosing your character, you first pick the gender and race (human, elf, or dwarf), and then an available class for the race you chose (warrior, mage, or rogue).  There are some limitations consistent within the game world.  Only humans and elves can be mages, for example.  There are a total of six backstories to play through, so in a few cases, you’ll have some say in your character’s origin.  Were they a commoner or a noble, for example?

After this, you choose your character’s appearance.  Dragon Age has a realistic art style, with customization that allows you to finely tune your character’s facial features right down to the width of her jawline. You can’t change the character’s body type at all, but if you like, you can give them a giant forehead, jutting chin, and beady eyes. Just scrolling through the preset appearances will give you an idea of the diversity possible.  For each of mine, I started with one of the presets and tweaked it to my liking.  (I didn’t go with the beady eyes, but one of my characters ended up with a prominent forehead and a bit of a chinbutt.)

A warning, too. You are selecting the shape and shading of all your character’s features by candlelight.  I chose what looked like a nice healthy skin tone for my elf rogue when I was creating her.  When she got out into the light of day, her skin was so light that it looked like she was running around in a white bodysuit.  Same with some of the makeup on the women. What looks subdued in the creator is often much brighter in the game itself.  My mage has some very unfortunate green eyeshadow.

You can preview the character creation experience by downloading the files linked here.

Story and Character Context

I have played through all the origin stories now and I think they’re pretty well done.  You immediately get a sense of who your character is through conversations with characters that already know them.  Right from the start, your character is interacting with friends, mentors, and/or adversaries.  I have heard some complaints about the originality of the stories themselves, but I thought they were fine. Fairly typical birth-of-a-hero stories, but each compelling in their own right.

As you meet new characters and learn about the world, information is collected in a Codex, accessible through your Journal where your quests are also kept.  There is a lot of collectible information.  I’ve found that in some cases, you can still get the info in your Codex even if you skip the conversation.  You do not have to have the same “What are the Darkspawn?” conversations with every new character, for example.  If you speak with the character that would have given you that info, very often you end up with the story in your Codex anyway.  In your Journal, there is also a conversation history if you want to go back and review all the choices you made in conversations.

From what I have heard, Bioware RPG’s are notorious for putting your character in situations where they are forced to make difficult choices.  Betrayal seems to be a common theme, sometimes with devastating consequences. I can’t say how much most of it effects the overall outcome, but I found myself caring about the NPC’s enough to get swept up in it, wondering who to trust and whether I was doing the right thing.

No Going Back

My husband and I made a character and played the game together for a few hours one evening.  Knowing I’d play quite a lot on my own, I let my husband “drive” and make decisions about what the character said and did. When one of the NPC’s asked for help, rather than go with the positive answer (as one does if one actually wants to do quests and gain xp), my husband chose the smartassed “Yeah, whatever… good luck with that” answer, blowing her off to see what would happen. She looked very sad and withdrew from the conversation, causing my husband and I to make frowny faces at one another.  So, of course, my husband approached her again after the encounter cinematic ended so he could offer to do the quest.  No dice.  She wouldn’t talk to us any more.  :(

I remember a point in my WoW career where I felt an emotional connection with the NPC’s.  I felt terribly guilty if I declined or abandoned a quest.  That feeling is long gone now.  The NPC’s never seem to remember you anyway.  (Heck, I’d think Thrall would remember me after Wrathgate, but I’m pretty sure if I popped by the throne room, he’d welcome me to Orgrimmar and ask if I’ve come to serve the Horde.)  I’d forgotten what it was like for there to be such consequences in my gameplay.  Sort of refreshing, actually.

(Later, when I was making another character, my husband told me I could delete the one we made together.  “She’s mean,” he said.)

“Realism,” Immersion, and Missing Voices

All of this sets the stage for a wonderfully immersive gameplay experience.  It is immersive, for the most part.  There are two things in particular that take me out of the story on a fairly regular basis, however.

The first is the blood splattered all over everything.  At first I thought, “Wow, that’s different.”  Aside from a few drippy raid bosses in WoW, there’s not a lot of blood squirting around.  In Dragon Age, sometimes the killing blow decapitates your enemy, causing blood to shoot out of their neck.  So, I suppose it’s natural that your character might become bloody if they’re in the fray.  The problem is that in the brief cinematics after a battles, your character continues to stand there with blood all over their armor, weapons, and their faces.  There are little specks of bright red blood on everything.  I suspect it’s intended as part of the “realism” of the game, but it’s just a bit over the top, in my opinion.

The second (and probably my biggest criticism of the game) is the lack of a speaking voice for you, as a main character.  When your character is deep in discussion with others and you choose what she says, she doesn’t actually say anything.  If everything were text, that would be one thing, but the cinematics are otherwise fleshed out with voice acting.  This may not have stood so much had I not played Mass Effect briefly.  In Mass Effect, you make conversation choices and then your character actually talks to the others.  She doesn’t say precisely the text you chose, but conveys the essence of it in a way consistent with her demeanor.  I realize this would have required many more hours of voice acting, but I absolutely loved this in Mass Effect.  I think it would have brought the Dragon Age play experience to the next level.  Not sure why it wasn’t done.  You choose a voice at the beginning, but it just determines what your character yells passively in battle.

Basic Controls , Tactics, and Navigation

One thing that took some getting used to was the combat system.  It may be second nature to those accustomed to recent single-player RPG’s, but I was having a hell of a time trying to figure out how to coordinate all my characters at first.  You choose the character central to the story, of course, but you’ll often be fighting side by side with characters of other classes that join your party and help you fight.  As part of this, you gear them and can control them.

There is AI, of course, and you can define elements of your party members’ fighting styles through the Tactics interface.  Until I figured this out, I died a lot. (In between dying a lot and figuring this out, I was pausing the game a lot.  Turns out that using the Tactics system is far superior. ;)) You can set your characters to heal themselves if they get too low, use certain attacks based on enemy proximity and health, and so forth.  Very handy.

Navigating the world is intuitive.  Your map features quest locations and the minimap has a pointer on it to lead you in the general direction of your quest objective. Another complaint I’ve heard from MMO players is that there are invisible walls.  This is true, there are.  You cannot always go to the places that you can see in the distance.  With a few exceptions, this hasn’t been too immersion-breaking for me.  As I’m moving through the world, I just try to stay on task.  The urgency with which the quests are usually assigned means I probably shouldn’t dally exploring the fields or romping in the rivers anyway, right?

As with WoW, I use a combo of WASD and the mouse to move myself around.  (There is click-to-move, but I don’t use it.)  It’s pretty smooth and the running animations look fairly natural.  There is, however…

No Jumping Allowed!

I don’t think I realized how much I jump around in WoW until I started playing Dragon Age.  There’s no jumping at all in this game.  (I suppose it would make you look uncivilized.)  In WoW, I am constantly moving and jumping in fights while I’m casting.  Part of this is because some of the raid encounters require constant repositioning and running around, and as part of this, I jump.  My priest almost always hops up in the air before slinging Prayer of Mending at the tank, too — it’s just a habit I picked up. (She looks like she’s having a great time when she’s healing.)  So, in DA:O this means that I hit the space bar and pause the game repeatedly.  I see a pile of rubble and want to jump over it. *pause* *grr*

(So, only rogues in Dragon Age.  No rouges.)

But, Pause is Your Friend

It turns out that pausing in battle can be really helpful, however.  This kept me alive before I figured out how to use the tactics properly and now I pause just when things get too chaotic.  My tactics are mostly set up to just let the AI do its thing, but occasionally some intervention is required.

I confess that it’s also refreshing to play a game that I can pause it all.  I can leave the game at a moment’s notice and nothing will happen without me.

And F5 is your BEST Friend

Save. Your. Game.  Do it often.  There is autosave, but nothing kills a play session like accidentally dying and then realizing you’re going to have to repeat your last 30 minutes of play.  If it were just fighting that would be one thing, but it sometimes means redoing conversations, watching cinematics, etc… aaargh.  Not that they’re bad to watch, it’s just frustrating when you want to move forward in the story.  So, right from the start, get yourself into the habit of saving the game regularly.

Overall

First impressions?  Dragon Age: Origins is excellent fun.  It’s reminding me of the old days when I looked forward to long, immersive play sessions with my games. I’d dim the lights, put on the headphones, and completely focus on the story being told to me, soaking in the experience.  It has made me realized that so much of what I do now is socializing and character maintenance rather than play.  It is fun, but it is definitely a different kind of play than a single-player RPG can offer.

Looking around the blogs, lots of MMO players (particularly in WoW) are bored or in a rut right now.  Looking for something fun to do before your next patch/expansion comes out? Consider joining the Grey Wardens.

sapping my way to seventy

My rogue hit level 60, putting her at the bottom of the battleground bracket food chain once again.  I suspected she would be relatively useless in a one-on-one situation against, say, a level 68 rogue, so I decided to stick with Alterac Valley until I gained a few levels.

So, this past Sunday (after deciding to put off working on my novel), I cleared my bags, queued for Alterac Valley, and went mining.  (In between BG’s, I am mining and leveling engineering.  I want rocket boots!). I noticed that I was about 7000 xp points into level 60, for which I need 290K xp total.  Within a few minutes, the battleground popped and off I went.

After a victory for the Horde, it was back to mining and chatting with my guildmates.  One of them asked how the battleground leveling experiment was going and I said, “great!” and glanced up at my xp bar.  It was at 96,866 xp.  :-o

Really? 90K for one battleground?  Wait… had I run a partial BG in there, too?  Or did I see that starting number wrong?  (I listen to podcasts while I run BG’s, too, so sometimes I’m only half paying attention.)  I jotted down the number and queued again.  Here’s how the afternoon broke down once I started keeping track:

Starting:  96,866 xp

After AV#2: 123,384 (26,518 gained)

After AV#3: 190,360 (66,976 gained)

After AV#4: 256,862 (66,502 gained)

After AV#5: 289, 757 (32,895 gained)

Of these, AV#2 and #5 were partial battlegrounds where I was probably replacing folks that had been afk or dropped part of the way through.  The Horde won all of them (woo!).  That’s pretty good xp for 15-25 minutes worth of play.

I wondered if there might be diminishing returns as I level more, but according to wowwiki, it should continue to be rewarding, because boss kills and tower cap rewards are based on a percentage of the xp required to level.  My numbers don’t quite mesh with theirs, given that I clearly got more than 20% of a level for a single AV win (twice!).  In any case, it looks like running battlegrounds (particularly AV) is a viable way to level.

And, it’s fun.  One of my guildmates teased me a bit about how I was spending my time (like, how could running BG”s over and over possibly be interesting), but I am loving it right now.  Each battle presents a new challenge against new opponents that may or may not do what we expect.  Sure, my teammates are sometimes obnoxious, whiny, and insufferable, but I either tune them out, zing right back, or take my frustrations out on the opponent.  If it gets too annoying, I just take a break and work on crafting for a while.  I much prefer all this to doing the Hellfire Peninsula quests again.

I don’t get mad, I get stabby.

When we put together a static group with my sister and her husband, I decided to try my hand at playing a rogue.   I confess — for a long time I didn’t enjoy playing her.  She wasn’t remotely competitive with the mage and shaman on the dps meters, since she was limited to single targets, and often mobs were dead before I got close enough to hit them, so I spent a lot of time frustrated.  As she got into her 40’s and 50’s, it started to get much better.  Her spec matured and I figured out how to deal with her limitations (and mine, as a new melee player).  I even started topping the meters on some of the single target fights.  (Not that I have to be at the top; I just want to be competitive.)

We recently hit level 57, having slogged through BRD and the first wing of Dire Maul.  My husband, who has been tanking for us, tossed out the idea of folks swapping in different characters before we moved on to Outland.  It would be perfect timing, for example, if someone wanted to bring in a death knight.  They’d hardly need to level — just do the DK starting area and go.  It does sort of fly in the face of the “let’s start at level 10 and push to 80 together” idea that we started with, but he wanted a break from tanking.  Since I wasn’t completely in love with my rogue, I decided to give death knight tanking a try.  (I’ll save those omgnoobtank stories for another day though. ;) )

Since my rogue was now free to play on her own, I decided I might try my hand at some pvp and level her in the battlegrounds.  I spent some time at shadowpanther.net looking at gear and specs and then sent my priest to the heirloom vendors to pick up some goodies for her.  Six heirloom purchases later (shoulders, chest, two melee weapons, a gun, and a trinket), my rogue was ready to hit the battlegrounds for the very first time.

I queued for Warsong Gulch first since it was the daily.  It popped almost immediately and I zoned into the base for a fresh match.  Scanning the list of horde players, it didn’t seem we had many healers, which worried me.  (This is why I like healing BG’s, generally.  Few people seem to be willing to do it and it can make a huge difference.) I surveyed my cast bar a final time to make sure I knew where vanish and sprint were.  The gates opened and off we went.

I won’t do a play by play of the whole match, but there were some great moments for me. I loved sneaking around, incapacitating the enemy’s healers, and sapping people when they thought they were alone and safe.  Once, I came upon a scene midfield where there was an Alliance DK and his druid healer descending upon on one of our guys (can’t remember what class).  I dismounted and stealthed up behind the DK and sapped him before he entered combat.  I then helped my teammate dispose of the druid and then we destroyed the DK together.  Ahh… it was lovely.

On one of the flag runs, I was the lone player guarding our flag carrier. He and I ran to the top of our base and I stealthed around, waiting for attackers.  I killed a rather persistent warlock a few times, but the best kill was the paladin.  As he approached our flag carrier, I sneaked up behind him, cheap-shotted him and then bludgeoned him with hemorrhage and eviscerate so speedily that he didn’t have time to heal, bubble, or anything.  The flag carrier said, “wow good rogue.”  Bwahaha…we won that BG 3-0.

This really whetted my appetite for pvp, though of course all the BG matches haven’t gone this smoothly.  There was a WSG where an Alliance DK had something like 8000 hit points and was basically untouchable.  Some on our team even suggested that he was twinked.  “How much do you have to suck to twink a DK?” they said.  I saw plenty of heirloom shoulders in the base when we were buffing before the match — not like we had room to talk.  “I think he has purples,” someone else said. I looked him up and, no, he has no purples.  He has mostly starting DK gear, a couple quest items, and some engineering stuff.  Nothing too crazy.  I suppose it goes to show how powerful DK’s are out of the starting gate.  I was unfortunate enough to go toe-to-toe with him at one point and he killed me in two shots.  Ow!

I have also run few Arathi Basins and quite a few Alterac Valleys, which have been fun.  As a priest in AV, I always stayed in the thick of things.  Even if everyone abandoned before capping, I had to go, too, because I could never defend anything alone.  As a rogue, I have a few more tricks at my disposal.  I still find myself missing psychic scream, but I suppose I can’t have everything.  :)

Anyway, she’s now 59 and feeling strong, but will soon find herself at the bottom of the bracket again.  I’m looking forward to the climb to 80.  It’s been a while since I’ve felt this way about leveling!  Probably all the extra adrenaline.

/stabby

Violins and Magic

Beautiful post at Terra Nova about violins as magical items.

I own a violin, but it is only a white-level item, at best.  Certainly mass manufactured, it was purchased for less than $100 when I was in 8th grade.  My mom probably thought the violin was a passing fancy, so didn’t want to invest in a lot of gold toward a green level one.  I did my best to make it sounds like a green violin over the five years that I played.  (I played the viola for a year, too, which I loved even more.)

I skilled up quickly in the beginning, but then plateaued, as always seems to be the case with weapons. As my skill increased, I noted that my DPS went down.  My parents stopped sending me to my room to practice with the door closed.

Eventually, I reached the limits of my available training, given how much gold I had in my bank (not to mention my innate skills as a player), and pursued different skills.  I kept the violin in my inventory (my room) for the next few years, just in case I felt the urge to play.  When I moved away from home, the violin was moved into my permanent bank space (parents’ basement) where it stayed for more than ten years, collecting dust.

On one of my last visits, I decided to bring the violin back home with me.   I can see it in the closet from where I’m sitting in my office right now.  I know I’d have to start leveling the skill from zero again, but some days it’s tempting, especially when I hear one of the more masterful players make magic on one of their epics.  I know these are epics and skills I’ll never have, but a little magic in life is always nice.  I could be a casual player again someday.