Sunday, October 26, 2014

Letters from Tamriel, Part V - A Brief Interlude

Much has changed since I last wrote about TESO. I lack the discipline to churn out regular blog posts, preferring to play rather than write about games, and when I actually do write, I end up creating massive, turgid and long-winded posts about issues which seem trivial in hindsight. Ah well, no one is forcing anyone to read this, so I will just potter along and write about things which interest me. Once an idea gets in my skull it festers in the back of my head, and only the act of publishing it liberates my mind from the fixation. It's quite a relief to get a post published and to forget about it.



The Siren Call of Archeage

I have been sorely tempted by the lures of Archeage. It has many features which interests someone of my background. One of the recurring themes of this blog is the quest for meaningful open world PvP, and AA appears to be one of the few titles that have incentivized it correctly and given it purpose beyond meaningless griefing. A game has to be doing something right if it is able to attract both self-defined "carebears" such as Aywren of Clean Casuals Gaming, and hardcore PvPers like Syncaine of Hardcore Casual. On the other hand, the horror stories about the prevalence of bots and hackers, Trion's unwillingness or inability to deal with them, and the controversy regarding the use of a rootkit program called HackShield are all red flags which dampen my interest in the game. I've already taken the plunge and joined Syncaine's guild on the Ollo server, but have yet to actually play the game online with my new guild. My AA avatar is in her 20's, and is a neophyte in all things AA related, so I don't expect to go on any roams with the guild for at least a couple more weeks. It's actually quite fun to be a stranger in a strange land - to not know the landscape intimately, to be unable to comprehend the meaning of the abbreviations in zone chat, or to know the potential strengths or weaknesses of my character's build. My avatar has simply been questing, following the bread crumbs like Hansel and Gretel in the big bad woods, except that the big bad woods so far have been non-PvP zones and have been quite uneventful, peaceful areas. I'm sure a rude shock awaits once she enters the contested zones, but it is something I am looking forward to. For now my avatar Hatakeyama is learning how to plant flowers and trying to wrap my head around how the crafting system works. No guides used as of yet - that will come once someone flattens me in PvP - but she is learning as she goes. At the moment of writing she has planted a bunch of lilies behind a non-descript barn, and is hoping that the flowers will still be around when she logs on later this evening. It is a joy to be able to interact with the world, and to see the mark of player agency everywhere, from the player-owned and tended fields, the vast melange of houses and the occasional convoy that come rumbling along the dirt roads. TESO is a far more beautiful game - look at these amazing screenshots of the in-game engine - but its beauty is akin to that of painting locked away behind a glass case, pristine but forever beyond alteration. AA is a rough work in progress, but more importantly it is a communal effort, and one that springs from the players themselves. 


Single Player Diversions

I'm still subscribed to TESO, but my avatar has stalled at Veteran Rank (VR) 6 (out of a possible 14), and levelling her to cap via questing is a concept that fills me with horror and trepidation. I'm pretty much with J3w3l of Healing the Masses on this one - I think I'd prefer to eat broken glass rather than do another quest, regardless of how nicely the graphics are rendered and how well the voice acting is performed. Instead I play around with my Templar alt, and occasionally do some PvP in Cyrodiil on my main. I am now very much out of touch with the situation within the PvP campaigns. The only time I play TESO is when I can organise a time when I can play with Rykester and Sally Mander, and those times are becoming fewer and far between due to Rykester's ongoing studies and Sally's new baby girl. Nowadays I am devoting much more time to activities outside gaming, and the time I do spend in gaming is spent on single player titles such as Civilisation V, Hearthstone and Wasteland 2. I finally beat Civ 5 on the hardest difficulty setting, and have no plans to ever return to it outside of multiplayer games. Unfortunately Beyond Earth is on the cusp of release, and I fear that this will be another title which will consume much of my leisure time. I started playing Hearthstone in August when I went back to Australia for holiday, and this title has scratched an itch for competitive play which WoW Arena and Rated BGs used to fill. I would like to become good at Hearthstone, and try to attain Legendary rank, much like Matticus in World of Matticus has done. This requires practice and study, however, and it might be something that is beyond me anyway. For now, though, Hearthstone is like Arena without the movement and the twitch requirements, and I am thoroughly enjoying learning and playing the game.

State of the Campaigns in TESO

The PvP landscape in TESO has changed significantly since Part IV of this series. For one, the original ten 90-day campaigns in Cyrodiil have been compressed into five - a non-VR five day campaign, a VR only five day campaign, two 7 day campaigns, and an open 30 day campaign. Another alteration occurred in September, when the Veteran campaign of Bow of Shadows was replaced by another open 30 day campaign (Azura's Star). I've relocated my toons to Thornblade, the first of the two possible open 30 day campaigns, and any subsequent posts about Cyrodiil will take place here. The rough chronology of the campaigns I have been involved with since the April release are as follows:

i) 90 Day Campaign (Wabbajack April-July 2014) - the first, and best campaign in my humble opinion, and I will always have fond memories of the great war in Wabbajack. The story of this campaign can be found here;
ii) Truncated 90 Day Campaign (Wabbajack July-August 2014) - this expired early when the campaigns were compressed into their present day versions;
iii) 30 Day Campaign (Thornblade August 2014) - won by the Altmeri Dominion;
iv) 30 Day Campaign (Thornblade September 2014) - won by the Altmeri Dominion;
v) 30 Day Campaign (Thornblade October 2014) - scheduled to end in just over a week, but it is CLOSE - any of the three factions can still win it.

In addition to the consolidation of the campaigns Zenimax has instituted a 50,000 AP minimum to be eligible for the rank of Emperor, as well as a 3 day lockout when switching campaigns. The horse has bolted however, as the title of Emperor is completely meaningless now given the prevalence of Emperor farming in the weeks prior to the implementation of patch 1.3. The only Emperors I have respect for are the ones I have seen on a regular basis on the other side, and who have been crowned legitimately in CONTESTED campaigns. Zenimax has also begun awarding items for players in top 10% of the leaderboards (top 2% get a gold item, 2-10% get a purple) in patch 1.4. Previously all you received from the campaigns was gold, the sum total of which was determined by your activity and how well your Alliance did in the campaign. Now being active in the campaign has more tangible inducements, and given the balance changes I see this as an overall positive. And finally in the upcoming 1.5 patch campaign buffs will be localised to the campaign you are physically in. There will no longer be instances where players set their home campaign to one where their faction is dominant, and then guest into other campaigns using the buffs they have in their home campaign. The reign of the Dominion Emperor-Farmers will finally be over - if people want buffs they have to earn it in the campaign they are fighting in.

Overall there have been a vast plethora of changes in TESO, and all for the better. Patch 1.5 promises to add a whole host of quality of life changes. Dungeon scaling is on the cards, Veteran Points will be abolished, and the experience requirement to go up levels has been reduced. Thank the Divines for that. Better facial animations will also be implemented in 1.5, which goes to show where the developer's hearts are in this game - they love their aesthetic, and will spend countless resources improving the lighting, particle effects, and now facial animations over the things I myself would be prioritising - the Imperial City and the justice system all come into mind. For me, however, the best thing Zenimax has done to date is the minor miracle they have wrought on Thornblade. Somehow the three factions are almost completely balanced, as by evidenced by the evolution of the campaign score below.



Even now in the last week of the campaign the result is poised on a razor's edge, as any of the three factions can still win:



Unfortunately the balance in Thornblade is in sharp contrast to the one sided dominance of EP in Azura's Star, the other 30 day campaign. This probably goes to show that these types of factional balance are always in unstable equilibrium, and hitting the sweet spot is more a case of luck than anything else. I just accept that asymmetry is part of these type of open world games and deal with it. If I want balance I play instanced games like WoW Arena, Starcraft 2, or League of Legends.

An Interlude

I plan to remain a TESO subscriber for the foreseeable future, but my attentions will be diverted to AA for the next few weeks. It's too late for me to return to the current Thornblade campaign and be in the hunt for top 2-10% of the leaderboards until the campaign restarts in November. I am really looking forward to the opening of the continent of Auroria in AA, because this is when we will see guilds claim castles and territory and engage in some real large scale skirmishes ala Cyrodiil in TESO. I look forward to seeing which guilds become the top dogs, and who their rivals will be. MMOs are blank canvases on which players can create their own stories, and while AA has its share of challenges to overcome, the battle over Auroria and dominion of the high seas is a player-generated story this old role-player can get into.

4 comments:

  1. Looks like Syncaine's guild has imploded for various reasons. I'm still on it but he's given up. My toon's name is Noisy if you want to add me and perhaps we can brave the PvP world together, although I'm only at level 25 as we speak.

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  3. Yeah, I saw him and Mobs go at it on Syncaine's blog.

    I'm a member of Unreal Aussies now. Don't let the name fool you, they're actually been quite pleasant so far, and have a good number of active Oceanic members. They advertise quite frequently too, so I'll either invite you once I'm online, or you can just send a tell to a recruiter when you see them in zone.

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  4. Yeah I've seen them running around the same times I play, which is a good sign.

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