The Cost of Being a Goon

A while back I heard about a video of a Wintergrasp battle in WoW that had been won within 62 seconds thanks to a clever bunch of folks that piled around the relic door and used grenades and bombs from the engineering profession to blast it down.  I looked up the video and found that it was the notorious Goon Squad that had pulled it off.  A friend in my guild mentioned that the Goons had also once kited Jaina all the way to Orgrimmar, through the city, and into Thrall’s chambers where they had a showdown.  What a fun idea!  I decided to check out their website to see what else they’d been up to.

I was immediately met with a warning that I was not a paying member, but that if I clicked “ok” I could see the payment options for the guild.  Uh, payment options?   I clicked ok and was met with a summary of what it requires to be a Goon.

If you want the privilege of running with the Goons in WoW, it will cost you an additional monthly fee payable through Paypal, credit card, or direct bank account transfer.  They have four different membership plans, each allowing you access to different levels of raiding and guild activities.  The above Jaina/Thrall event, for example, was a “Platinum Only” event.  All those people involved pay an extra $50 a month on top of their regular WoW subscription fee to participate in this kind of thing, or just $40 if the economy-inspired price break had already occurred.

Beyond the membership fees, they invite people to buy gear, too.  If you’re low on DKP but really want to bid on a raid drop, no problem — you can buy more DKP for a dollar a point.  Seems they may allow some non-members to raid with them, in which case the person must pay $5-25 (depending on gear item level) for drops, payable before the raid.  They add “We do not accept gold as a USD substitute.”  How is this not against the Terms of Use, which says “you may not sell in-game items or currency for “real” money, or exchange those items or currency for value outside of the Game”?

For all this, the Goons must bring in an impressive amount of money, too.  They say these fees go toward paying full time guild employees, including the GM, raid leaders, and a sys admin to keep the forums and vent servers going.  They boast 1800 accounts, so even if these were all just $10/month accounts with no frills, that’s $18,000 per month that they pull in.  That’s the minimum.  You saw how many $40-50 accounts were running around in those videos, so it has to be quite a bit more. I’m sure some folks also buy DKP and gear, so I can’t help but wonder what they rake in.  And do they report it and pay taxes on it?

There are guilds of similar (or larger) size out there that seem to function perfectly fine with a GM, officers, and raid leaders, none of whom get paid by the membership.  I don’t know how many accounts Alea Iacta Est has, but with almost 5000 toons associated with the guild, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a comparable number of accounts to the Goons.  I suppose some would argue that the in-game experience the Goons offer is rare, however. It is an exclusive club and membership can potentially change the game completely for you.  But is it worth an extra $40 per month on top of your WoW subscription?

If it were a one-time fee to help defray the cost of the website and vent servers, I could see doing that.  Even a small yearly donation would not be unreasonable.  But, supporting the GM and officers so that they can basically live off of running the guild?  Sorry, I don’t think so.  The payment of real money for gear is absolutely ridiculous, too.  Pushing the boundaries is sort of their thing though, so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Still, I’m surprised they get away with it.

==

Edit: Evidently this is just another one of the Goons’ clever games and I fell for it.  They’re pretty good, aren’t they?

<–pwned

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Chronicles of Spellborn

I’d heard Beau rave about The Chronicles of Spellborn, but wasn’t really interested in trying it until I watched his video tour.  The animation of the character didn’t thrill me, but the atmosphere was so intriguing, I decided I’d give it a go.  I have to say, it impressed me.  It’s well worth checking out.  In fact, I’ve played more of Spellborn during the last week than WoW.  (I know!  I’m surprised, too!)

Character Creation

The flexibility in character creation is quite fun. You start by picking the archetype for your character:  warrior, spellcaster, or rogue.  After a bit of leveling, you’ll be able to specialize to become one of three more distinct subclasses available.  I chose a caster, for example, who has the potential to become a rune mage (powerful damage dealer), a void seer (with healing capabilities), or an ancestral mage (caster with a pet).

There are two races, humans and daevi, which are mysterious hooved humanoids.  You can choose from a couple different body types to come up with some very different-looking characters.  The really fun part, however, is customizing your character’s clothing and armor.  All of this is purely aesthetic apparently — if you don’t like the shoulder armor models, you don’t have to give your character shoulder armor.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter. There are matching sets of clothing and gear, or you can mix and match all you like.   Coloring of the items can be chosen individually or for the entire set.  Here are some views of a character I made, showing some of the options for clothes and gear styling.  Click each for a larger view!

spell-1 spell-2 spell-4 spell-5

Some of the armor pieces have sockets where you can add sigils to boost your abilities.  If your current items don’t have slots, you may find new items later during your adventures.  It seems anything can be reforged to match the rest of your gear’s color, if you like, too.  (I imagine this will be one of the paid options when the shop opens next year.)

Movement

Learning to move around effectively took some practice.  My characters still stagger around somewhat drunkenly at times because the super-quick about-face mouse turns that I do in WoW don’t quite work here.  It’s pretty funny to watch people arrive at the docks just after the tutorial, too.  Good to know I’m not the only one that didn’t get the hang of it immediately.

Combat

Combat is quite interactive.  I’d heard that you had to aim your weapon, which made me nervous given my history with FPS’s.  (I stink at them.)  This is much more forgiving than I imagined, though you still have to pay attention to what you’re doing.  You have a rotating action bar that offers you different sets of skills that you can rearrange to your liking. This screenshot is a little dark, but you’ll get the jist of it:

spell-14

Here, it’s between casts.  When the cylinder completes its rotation to the spells on row 2, it will remain there until you cast one of the spells on it.  It took me a while to figure out the best way to actually cast.  I aim using the mouse and then click the number of the spell twice, the first time to select it, the second time to cast it.  There may be better ways (they suggest the mousewheel to select the spells), but using the numbers on my keyboard worked pretty well for me.  Also, while there’s no mana/rage/energy bar for you to consider, there are a few different bars below your HP bar that will impact how effective your attacks are.

I worried a little about being a squishy caster in a game I’d never played, but I’ve been impressed with my survivability.  I can take on several waves of multiple mobs thanks to some self-healing abilities.  I need the survivability, too.  In some of the wooded areas, it’s easy to become surrounded very quickly and respawn timers seem to be short, as well.  I’ve seen some people complain about it in the public chat (“that’s not fair — in wow I just get attacked by one thing at a time”), but it’s made for some really close, exciting fights.

Questing

The questing is fairly standard, though I’m finding it quite engaging.  I’m reading all the quest text (shocking!) and following along with the stories.  Sometimes, you are presented with more than one option of how to respond to the NPC’s, as well.  I plan to go through and answer a few of their queries differently on my next run through, just to see if it changes the outcomes.  Even if it doesn’t, I like that it allows my character a little more personality.  Makes it feel more like an RPG.

The NPC’s have personality, as well.  There was something very bland about all the questing in Runes of Magic.  Even when they were clearly trying to be funny, they weren’t.  There was a strange disconnect there, maybe a language/translation thing.  Spellborn has made me smile several times and even laugh out loud.  I wouldn’t say the wit rises to the level of some of the stuff in WoW, but I think that sort of stuff would be inconsistent with the mood.  Spellborn isn’t a dark game, but it has a darker tone than WoW, for sure.

Quality of Light

I really love the look of this game.  Much of it has to do with the quality of light.  This is my character looking out at the landscape with a campfire to her right side.  (Click to see the full view of the landscape.)

spell-6th

This is an empty vendor’s stall on the docks.  I love the way the inside is lit by the lamp.

spell-7th

I keep happening upon scenes like this, where everything is so beautifully lit that I have to stop and take a screenshot (which is cumbersome — I didn’t notice an automatic feature for this in-game).  You know there’s a little dude up in the watchtower there.

spell-10

It’s a great-looking game.  I’ll resist the temptation to post more screenshots so that when you discover things and see the cities for the first time, you’ll enjoy that same moment of “wooow” that I did.  Ok, just one more:

spell-8th

Sound and Immersion

Another thing that has really impressed me is the ambient sound.  When I’m running around in the wooded areas, the hum of the insects is amazing. I usually have the window next to my desk open this time of year and at first I thought it was noise from outside.  I’ve been thinking about dimming the lights and playing while wearing headphones some night, though the game barely needs it.

The insect (and bird) sounds also remind me of my days of backpacking.  These are wonderful memories of “epic” journeys on foot that I took in real life, so I’m sure this plays into the sense of adventure that I feel in this world. My awareness is heightened, too, because I know there could be danger lurking in the trees.

Discovery

As I’ve begun to play these other MMO’s, my inner explorer has re-emerged.  I love wandering into new areas and finding out they’re too dangerous for me.  I creep up to the edges of the world and give myself vertigo by peering into the abyss.  I encounter holes in the ground with ladders leading down and wonder… what’s down there?  There’s only one way to find out…

spell-13

I’m sure it helps that I’m making it a point not to look up quest help, read about things ahead of time, or study what classes and spell rotations are optimal.  Even beyond that, there’s something about this world that invites me to explore it.  I’m loving the process of discovering this game.

Overall

A fangirl is born.

Like I said, I’m playing this more than I’m playing WoW.  The time that would have formerly gone to fishing, doing dailies, and leveling up alts has now been shifted to running around in the darkened woods, admiring the landscapes, and exploring the winding cities I’ve discovered so far.  The game is currently free to play while it’s in redevelopment. I believe it’s going to remain free after its re-release next year, but it sounds like cash shops and stuff like that will likely be added.  My only hope is that the game itself will not change too much.  I think it’s marvelous as it is.

Runes of Magic

I’ve been feeling a bit of wanderlust in my gaming recently.  The rush of gathering badges in heroics in WoW has passed since I’ve picked up my 8.5 chest and helm for both of my priest’s gear sets.  Her only other major upgrades come from raids, so there’s not much “work” for me to do.  I do have some alts tootling about, though they’re mostly out of rested xp.  And, if I’m being honest, I think I’ve just spent too much time in game recently.  Little things about my guildmates (who I adore!) have been getting under my skin.  I think it’s just time for a breather.  During my time in WoW, I have messed with a few other games, though never too seriously.  That’s the plan for now, too.  I’m going to try some new games and not worry so much about researching the character classes or working to setting up shop (socially or otherwise) and just have fun exploring.

My wanderings are also inspired in part by Van Hemlock‘s Operation Cheap Seats (spending time in free trials and free-to-play games) and the good folks over at MMO Voices.  When I joined the site there, Runes of Magic was the current “Game of the Site” (that several folks are going to be trying at ones), so I decided to start with that one.  (Looks like they’ve moved on to a different game now though.)

So, Runes of Magic.  I’d heard a bit about this game from various blogs and podcasts, mostly mentioning that it was disturbingly similar to WoW. The better reviews said that questing was much the same, the interface was nearly identical, and that it was a pretty good free-to-play option for those that didn’t want to shell out the subscription fee for WoW.  (Runes of Magic instead has RMT options for in-game items and bonuses of various kinds, though it’s optional.)  The less positive reviews condemned the game for being too much like WoW or a poor imitation of it. WoW is the only MMO that I’ve played at any great length, so I knew I’d be making comparisons, as well.  I promised myself I’d keep an open mind and not condemn it for its similarities to my main game.

I got the game downloaded, installed, and patched (a fairly lengthy process) and then was finally set to log in.  To my surprise, the login screen offered an on-screen keyboard to type in your password.  Woo!  Extra security!  That’s a pretty cool feature for those that put a lot of time and money into the game.  When the WoW hackings were more common, I remember someone mentioning that as a possible solution, but Blizz went with authenticators instead.  (I do have one, too.)  Still, kind of cool to see that feature on a free game.

Character creation!  My favorite!  I flipped through all the faces and hairstyles for both the male and female characters.  The only available race was human, which was sort of a bummer, but there was a decent variety of looks to choose from.  The art style has an Asian influence, for sure, though there was a good range of cartoony-anime to more realistic looks.  Most of the male faces looked really goofy to me (as they do in WoW, as well), but I usually go with female toons anyway.  I made my first character a warrior.  Here she is, getting ready to begin the tutorial:

rom-1

Look familiar?

And there you can see the UI, as well.   I run about 100 addons in WoW to make my UI not look like this, so I was a little frustrated.  I wanted to move the portraits, the action bars, the map, everything.  It was better after I put the video on the proper resolution for my monitor size and scaled the UI to 70% of its natural size.  (Turns out you can move the action bars, too — I figured this out later.)

I completed the tutorial, which essentially teaches you how to move around, jump, interact with NPC’s, and kill stuff.  Afterward, I was given a bag of goodies to help get me started in the game which included some gear, as well as a horse that lasts for 24 hours (live time).

I rode around the Pioneers Colony (sic), the quest hub for the starting area, and picked up quests.  They were all pretty standard.  Kill ten of this, collect ten of that, go talk to so-and-so.  Nothing new there.  There was a nice surprise with crafting, however — seems you can learn as many professions as you like!  You can only train some of them up to max level, but for someone with no aspirations of hitting any sort of level cap, this is the perfect thing.

Then, I ventured out to kill stuff.  Although the names of the attacks were different, the warrior in RoM has the same rage mechanic as in WoW, it seems.  I clobbered stuff and did quests until she hit level 4 or so.  I really don’t enjoy melee all that much (just like in WoW), but I did get a good feel for how all the UI features worked as I dealt with my inventory, turned in the quests, and upgraded my gear.  Turns out the default UI in RoM has incorporated some things that have only very recently been added in WoW or that we still rely on addons for.  For example:

  • Coordinates are available on the mini-map (not that I plan to look up quest locations, but it’s nice for those that want to).
  • Built in gear management options that allow you to examine all items in your inventory slot-by-slot (hover over slot to see them) and the ability to save outfits (recently added by WoW, though I still use an addon).
  • Notes that appear on mob mouseovers that let you know what quest they’re part of (WoW recently added this,).
  • All mobs are tracked on the mini-map, and mousing over them on the mini-map will also give the quest info.

All of this makes it pretty easy;  it’s intuitive if you’ve ever played an MMO.  One feature that surprised me was if you click on the name of an NPC in the quest text, your toon walks (or rides) right to them.  Wooooow.  On the one hand, that makes it all seem a little too easy.  On the other hand, it means not running around in circles for twenty minutes because the Argent squire you’re supposed to talk with is only two feet tall and wearing camouflage that causes him to blend in with the bench he’s standing on.  It’s also a nice thing if you’re feeling lazy.  This feature actually made the game feel a little bit more like FreeRealms, which lights up a little path exactly where you’re supposed to walk to do or turn in a quest.  Sometimes I used this feature, sometimes I didn’t.

You can also train right on the spot after leveling.  A little book appears on your screen and you spend points to upgrade your skills — pretty straightforward.  You can also apparently level up more than one class on a single toon.

After the warrior, I decided to try a priest.  I spent a little more time customizing her than I did my warrior.

Didn't realize I made her this busty until I cropped the shot... heh...

Didn't realize I made her this busty until I cropped the shot just now.

The tutorial is worth redoing with each toon because it gives you a magical bag of stuff (including the 24h horse) and really, it only takes a couple minutes.  I had turned off click-to-move, however, and that’s one of the first things it asks you to do.  Bah.  So, for every tutorial, I had to turn that back on briefly.

The priest was more fun for me than the warrior.  It was kind of nifty to see the different casting animations:

Pew pew!

Pew pew!

The priest had both damage and healing spells, though healing myself seemed to be a bit of a pain since my portrait was all the way at the top of the screen.  As someone spoiled by grid + clique, this wasn’t going to fly.  I leveled her to four or five before deciding to check out the mage class.

I immediately liked the mage.  She felt powerful, had cool casting animations, and had pretty hair! 😉  Here she is checking out the “creative” name of someone else in the starting zone:

I didn't ask if he had any tales to share.

I didn't ask if he had any tales to share.

Not that the NPC names were always better:

My boyfriend.

My boyfriend.

I got the mage to level 6 before I tore myself away to go back to one of the remaining melee classes, the rogue.  Apparently, apprentice rogues don’t wear pants, but I’ll leave it to you to click on that link at your discretion.  Again, melee.  Nothing special, just faster stabbing than the warrior.  She eventually found a tunic that covered her buns and was grateful to do so before crossing paths with the headmaster himself:

o rly?

o rly?

I then briefly played the scout class, which seemed to have both range and melee abilities.  I mostly used my range abilities and kited the mobs around, but felt like a WoW hunter without a pet.  It’s odd, too, how deeply I’ve been conditioned to think that hunter-y types should never ever melee (thanks, BRK), so I actually felt like I was playing badly if the mob caught up to me and I had to stab it.  I recognize that a scout is not a hunter, but still… I decided to skip the knight class and do a little more exploring with the mage instead.

So literary!

So literary!

She finished up most of the quests in the starting area, including the daily gathering quests, which seem to be endlessly repeatable, as far as I could tell.  She then wandered to Logar, the larger town in the center of the map, to see what was going on there.  There were tons of player characters bustling among the NPC’s.  I explored the whole town, picking up quests as I found them.  And look what was at the edge of town:

Hurray!  Outla... Oops, nevermind.

Hurray! Outla... Oops, nevermind.

In town, I found all the usual vendor types, an auctioneer, and a few more crafting trainers to learn from.  I also found someone looking to sell me a house!  Ok, this is moderately exciting because I’ve never played a game with player housing.  This isn’t something I’ve particularly cared much about, but I know that some folks love it, so I was eager to check it out.  I shelled out the gold and went inside my empty house.  Hm, not very exciting.  So, I went back outside and bought a chair.  It seemed like the thing to do.

Spacious.

Spacious.

Oh, and that’s my “housekeeper” to the left.   Heh…I can’t even sit in the chair, so I suppose she’ll have to dust it to keep it clean.

I still haven’t figured out all the house settings and stuff… something about energy?  I have no idea.  But, like I said, I’m just messing around here.  I’ve decided I’m not going to research it, I’m just going to follow my nose.

Overall

Surprisingly fun.  My gameplay in WoW has become so goal-oriented that to just run around in circles and click on things actually felt like a vacation.  While this game may not offer the humor and cleverness of WoW (at least not in the starting area), the gameplay was pretty smooth and not far from the standard WoW old world fare.  I haven’t played with the crafting much, but I liked that I don’t have to lock myself into one or two choices.  I’m intrigued by the dual class thing, too.

I didn’t mind the art style as much as I thought I might.  The world feels very enclosed to me, however.  In the starting area, I felt like I was on a sound stage instead of in a world — I can’t explain why.  Everything looked too still, perhaps?  I’ll pay more attention next time I log in.  There is day and night (on a different schedule than our 24 hour one, it seems), but no weather that I noticed.  I don’t remember seeing any small creatures running about or leaves blowing around.  Details like that can breathe life into a zone.

One of the major hurdles I’ve had with other games (or even Alliance toons) in the past is that if my toon looks silly when they run, I can’t play for long.  If their arms swing in a stupid way or their legs kick too much, forget it.  After all, most of the time, that’s what we’re looking out — the back of our toons as they run.  When I first saw my RoM warrior running toward the town, I thought, “Oh, great.”  I scoffed.  I rolled my eyes.  But, it actually didn’t take me that long to get used to.  This gives me hope that I can enjoy something other than watching my Horde toons running around.

Will I Keep Playing?

I’ll certainly keep looking in on this one from time to time.  I still want to play around with the crafting stuff and give one of their dungeons a try to see how it compares.  I’m curious about about the quality of the community, too, so I might try grouping up with folks after I get to a higher level.  I’m not ready to delete this game quite yet. 🙂

What’s Next?

The next MMO Voices game pick is Ikariam, so I’ll certainly check that out.  I also downloaded The Chronicles of Spellborn after watching Beau’s video here.  Nifty.

(And, if you were ever wondering what Ess stood for, now you know. 🙂 )