Building Character: Walkers, Wasps, and Rangers

Been a while since I put up a post on character progression, so I’ll shine my light on my Champions Online characters and give them some cred.

Since the last time I’d looked, I’ve pushed no less than three characters to top level (level 40).  This isn’t as impressive as it sounds; all of them were at least level 20 at that point, and there’s been some double-xp stuff that went around, which does wonders for leveling.  And most importantly for me, very little of it was done with the Alert system, the PvE queues for CO.  I think I’ve used exactly three split up among all these characters.

Delivering beatings for justice!

The first was Shadewalker.  I might have mentioned him in a couple of previous posts.  I sort of built him around the martial arts expert concept, and grabbed the Night Avenger sort of stuff to give him that stealth/first-strike capability.  He was sort of a balanced sort of character in that he relied hard on his Dex score to give him dodge and crit capability, but used his block (Parry, technically) to help survive the nasty hits.  His passive was the Night Avenger, which gave him the ability to sneak and land a massive strike from stealth-shades of City of Heroes Stalkers!-and also gave a minor buff to one of his other powers.  Most of those powers were the standards; Thundering Kicks for bread-and-butter damage, a spin-kick sort of thing for close range area-of-effect (and it was fun to watch, although charging it for maximum effect was rare for me), and a number of other close in combat moves.  To help round him out with some distance, I grabbed a couple powers from the Gadgets framework, so he had an arc of exploding boomerangs (which did bonus damage from stealth, which REALLY helped clean out henchmen) and a set of bolas to help him with crowd control-although single target only.

The character had some rough spots, until I managed to get him an active defense power to boost his dodge for fights that got nasty fast.  He remained somewhat squishy, but he did a creditable job on getting through the content.

No, I’ve never made a character who looked like this before….

The next character had been long neglected-especially since his face is on the banner above.  I finally made the push to get my Far Ranger character-who shares that striking resemblence to all those other rangers-up to 40.  Shockingly, he was an archer character, and all of his offense came from shooting long pointed objects.  Some of them exploded, though.  The sonic arrow was my bread-and-butter for this character, even above the standard snap-shot arrows, as the stun that could come out of the sonic’s use was often far more beneficial-and was an AOE besides-than the single target snap-shots, and the exploding arrows never really did much except to mix things up.  A close runner up was the arrow storm power, which did exactly what it sounds like-rain arrows to blot out the sun.  I could usually drop all a group’s henchmen, and a fair portion of the health of stronger opposition with the storm.  However, heavy hitters (eg. master villains and better) could give this Ranger a hard time.  Active defenses and liberal use of a power to jump backward and boost dodge rating became critical-and eventually I broke down and added a chance-for-stealth advantage to that jump-back primarily to wipe threat if he wound up in a scary situation.

The Ranger was a classic blaster guy; hit hard, and get hit hard.  He was one of the characters who actually did a couple Alerts, and the opponents in those alerts knocked his health down hard; fortunately, by that time I grabbed that stealthing advantage, and I credit it with keeping the Ranger alive through those Alerts.

Those look like they’d hurt going in….

The last character was Sea Wasp, and the primary reason I’d built her was because of the Lemurian Invasion event (before it got rotated into the Alert rotations).  The lead-in to the event included an unlock for an “ancient lemurian helmet” costume part, and I’d wanted to make use of it.  And during the big fight with the Bleak Harbinger itself, I managed to get the vehicle drop for the event, so I had this Lemurian tank-thing to play with.  So I figured I wanted to make an undersea sort of character-so I made Sea Wasp.  To fit in with that name, I made her a Claws fighter, making her one of the nastier fighters in my roster.  She was even more Dex based than Shadewalker, and I went hard on the Dodge related stats.  Her passive was Lightning Reflexes, and her Block was Fluidity.  Now, there’s just a tiny problem with Dodge-based characters:  if you dodge, you take x percent less damage, based on your Avoidance score (related to Dex, but separate from it).  If you don’t dodge…well, you eat all of that yummy damage.  This is a bad thing.  Like Shadewalker, she made use of the dodge active defense, and a couple other non-claw powers, primarily the leg sweep which was her way of dealing with more than one opponent.  Claws have a number of charge-up attacks, which isn’t as fast and as fluid as one might hope.  She tended to use her combo-hit power against the henchmen and saved the charge-ups against tougher opponents.  She did suck at range, but that was intentional-besides, if she was outdoors, she had this flying tank thing….

With these three characters down, most of my first page of heroes on the select screen have hit level 40.  And by an amusing bit of coincidence, this has unlocked most of the character slots on the second page of heroes (and a few have characters waiting for my attention).  The next couple on my list are heading to the high-technology side of things.  I’ll close this post with the names of those characters-and later down the line, give peeks at just who these people are:  Overload and Mechacharge.

Next time, we’ll see how things have been going on the Trek side of the fence.

Holding Patterns

Once in a while (well, it seems more frequently of late), I reach a point where I don’t have much to comment on.

It happens for a variety of reasons.  For Star Trek Online, it has to do with the fact that their business model (or perhaps more accurate to say how they implement it) continues to irritate me.  The whole introduction of the tier-6 starship thing probably was one of the things that really killed my enthusiasm for that game.  I did the Delta Rising thing, and the story was pretty good, and it allowed me to let my primary Klingon character shine; but I haven’t been motivated enough to really finish the story with my primary Starfleet or Romulan characters.  A new executive producer’s been named, but enough of the old names are still in positions (readers of this blog will know of one, at least, who continues to keep my contempt and still has his job) that make me figure that things aren’t going to get better.  This fetish they have of removing old content and putting in less to do so is another of those irritations that makes me throw my hands up in frustration.

Star Wars: The Old Republic has a different issue.  With the completion of the eight class stories in the game, I find my motivation to log in has dwindled substantially.  Certainly, I could go ahead and work on getting all the companion stories done by trying to buy up lots of gifts to increase their affection, but that’s eight times five plus one companions to deal with.  (Admittedly, some are already maxed out due to game play, but I don’t have the info with me right now.)  And there’s always unlocking the remaining rooms in the Coruscant and Kaas strongholds.  The big issue, of course, is that I’ve pretty much deliberately ignored the new content because of the way the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion was treated, and have chosen to wait and see if Bioware/EA does the same thing with Shadow of Revan.

Champions Online has a different issue than either of the above.  As it holds barely above maintenance mode (it still gets lockboxes, and the occasional bit of content…each year…), one would think there’s not much to do.  And there’s a certain truth to that.  Of course, given what happens in their sister game of STO, one could make an argument that less development means less chance to royally screw over the players of CO.  But what CO does still have over the other two is the vast amounts of customization.

This is not to say that STO or TOR have no customization.  But getting real here.  TOR has eight classes, each of which has two advanced classes, and each of those advanced classes have three “disciplines” (which used to be more complex, but the devs trashed it for “simpler”).  That’s not a bad bit of complexity to work with, right?  Even with that simplification, there’s enough difference in gameplay to make three smugglers different from each other, for example.  And STO?  It started with three professions, and three styles of ship (although the style of ship depended greatly on the faction; Starfleet got science ships, while the Klingons got the Birds of Prey raiders), and customization came by the way of use of kits, which gave the captain assorted ground abilities.  Lately, though, things have improved there.  (That’s right-I won’t ignore giving credit where it’s due.)  Kits, formerly just a set of abilities, are now containers for separate abilities which can be slotted into it.  This opens things up a whole lot, allowing a different “kit spec” to suit a situation.  Delta Rising also brought “captain specializations” which tend to be a post-50 sort of deal (although I’m not 100 percent sure; this is the problem with using high level characters instead of new ones.  I should experiment sometime…).  That’s still in its infancy, but we’ve already got Command and Intelligence specialties, plus a couple of secondary specialties.

The point is, though, that CO puts both in the shade.  You’ve got your basic classes in STO and TOR, and they can be tweaked to play different from others, but CO-at least for a subscription or a purchased freeform slot-allows characters who can literally do anything.  Want a weapon master who uses guns, bows, swords, and unarmed attacks?  You can do that.  Want a character who uses fire and ice?  You can do that.  Want a super-strong gadgeteer?  You can do that.  STO and TOR have pretty impressive options to work with, but CO has far, far more.  It’s a pity that PWE/Cryptic hasn’t put more into that game, particularly with how big super-heroes are these days in the mainstream.  (Of course, I could say the same about another company and another super-heroic property laid to rest, too…those idiots….)

That’s probably why I’ve spent more time in the last month in CO than in the other two games.  And it’s probably why I still look back fondly at games like City of Heroes (multiple archetypes with multiple powersets with multiple choices within those powersets) and Star Wars Galaxies (well, pre-CU, where you could skill-train anything up to a limit of max points; and changing them was as simple as unlearning skills and playing the game with new ones).  Having that wide variety of choices…that helps keep me interested.

I do expect at some point, though-and probably not too far ahead-that I’ll gravitate back to STO or TOR and spend more time there, and CO will fade to the background just as the others have for now.  The variety of choice applies to games themselves, too.

Next time, I’ll probably remark on just what kind of characters in CO I’ve been working on lately.

Ten Years In

I had to pause when I typed that title in.

Ten.

Years.

One decade of semi-regularly posting my thoughts on MMORPGs, from my early “gee-wow” phase of starting playing the games to my significantly more jaded self today. And the blog’s covered the bases. Some posts have been simple peeks at “here’s what I’m doing this week” (back when I was a lot more regular). Some posts have been about deeper thoughts on MMORPGs in general, and some in specific. Some have praised assorted developers, and some have…well, let’s go with the opposite of “praised”.

There have been bumps in the road, of course. A few times I’ve pondered just saying “Game Over” to the MMO scene, usually during times of big transition, but something always managed to keep me at least poking my nose in. And of course, RL has occasionally gotten in the way of playing, much less putting up posts about things. At one point, I even bit the bullet and made the big jump from the GuildPortal blogging host to WordPress.

I’ve played quite a few games over the years.  Star Wars Galaxies was the gateway drug, and when I started playing that I honestly felt I’d not need to play any other MMOs.  If the New Game Enhancements had any positive impact on me, it was that it kicked me out of the comfort zone and allowed me to look at other MMOs.  And the list goes on:  from games where I only dabbled such as Lord of the Rings Online, EVE Online, and DC Universe Online; to the games where I truly spent a significant amount of time with, such as World of Warcraft (hasn’t everybody?), Star Trek Online, Champions Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and of course, the one that took the top place in amount of time spent, City of Heroes.

Well, we’ve had a lot going on this year, so let’s set the wayback machine and take it for a spin.

A pair of stories reach their conclusions

In Star Wars: The Old Republic, I finally managed to complete my long-term goal of getting through the class stories for all eight classes.  I wrapped up my Bounty Hunter relatively early in the year.  My Jedi Counselor took a bit more time, thanks to the appearance of the Galactic Strongholds expansion, which brought player housing of a sort to the game.  Unfortunately, what they didn’t tell you was that in order to open up all those nice rooms, you’d have to shell out Cartel Coins (the real money equivalent) or lots and lots of credits.  I did eventually blow some of my accumulated coins to open up my Nar Shadda rooms (I got a fair amount of them for free, being a subscriber), and a whole lot of credits.  With all the rooms opened, I took a short break in order to recuperate from the grind burnout, before pushing onward with my Counselor and completing the last class story.

But of course, that turned out not to be the end of the story, because the Shadow of Revan expansion hit before year’s end, and as I understand it, there are mini-class stories in that.  Unfortunately, Bioware/EA decided to make it a paid expansion, which put me in mind of what happened with the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion-namely, the fact that it became free for subscribers less than six months after it was released.  I’m all for eventually releasing expansions for free, but the turnaround for that seemed like dirty pool to me-and so I’ve decided not to fall into that trap again, and will wait until the inevitable happens with Shadow of Revan.

Guildwise, not much goes on there.  I had originally hoped that I might be able to pull off a purchase of a fleet flagship there, but the price for the ship is so disgustingly high-and given that I’m more or less solo in that game these days-and the benefits are iffy in that case anyway, that I figured that it’s something we could live without.  A guild stronghold was established on Coruscant, but I don’t anticipate opening any rooms there for a long time; I have enough work to do opening up my own Coruscant and Dromund Kaas rooms as it is.

I’m reminded of being shaken down by a bully….

Star Trek Online has long been a source of…well, let’s call it discontent.  For me, at least.  I’m good with their story content, but their business practices continue to make me sick.  (Okay, that’s a bit too extreme-let’s say “extremely unhappy”.)  The first blow was the removal of the Exploration clusters, removing what could well be considered one of the primary pillars of Star Trek in general.  Then came the new tier-6 ships, rendering the tier-5 ships-virtually all of which were paid for with Zen, the real money equivalent for Perfect World games-obsolete.  Or, if you wanted to be really insulting, you could upgrade some of those tier-5 ships to be almost-but-not-quite as good as tier-6 ships for more Zen.  In fact, it seems that it’s now about fleecing customers; the crafting system is designed to take forever to max out in any branch, unless you spend a large chunk of dilithium-and given you can only refine 8000 dilithium per day, you’re looking at being forced to purchase dilithium off the exchange, which requires-you guessed it-Zen.  The announcement that bridge officer training is about to go down the same track is one that continues to bring me closer to abandoning the game entirely; as it is, I spend less and less time in the game.

Which is a pity, because the devs can do some good things.  The story advanced to bring an uneasy peace between the Klingons and the Federation at last, thanks to a bigger threat uniting them in the form of the Iconians.  This included a revamp of Earth Spacedock (again), which is an extremely beautiful bit of work.  Also of interest was the release of Delta Rising, the new expansion taking place in the Delta Quadrant; while what story is there is pretty good, it’s also somewhat lacking in comparison with the Legacy of Romulus expansion.  Comparing the two isn’t a real comparison:  Legacy beat the tar out of Delta in terms of sheer content.  Accordingly, while I enjoyed the Delta stories, it didn’t enthuse me as much as the Legacy expansion-and I’m not that big a fan of Romulans.

The Corps of Discovery fleet still continues to exist, although the active folks tend to be on when I’m not on (and there aren’t many of them as it is).  One of the members managed to get the fleet embassy up to tier-1 through sheer determination and will (not to mention dilithium and fleet marks), so the fleet’s now got a tier-1 embassy to go along with its tier-2 starbase.  I’ve entertained the thought of pushing a tier-1 dilithium mine, but at this stage, I think everyone’s burned enough out on that particular grind.

A new hope

Low development effort never looked so good

Despite my exit from Champions Online last year, I went back again.  I guess I needed to get my superhero on, and it beat DC Universe Online in my book, so there it is.  (I do play Marvel Heroes as well, but honestly, they don’t let me make my own creations.  That’s painful for a creative sort.)  I spent some time getting a number of my stable of characters to the max level 40, and began a few new characters-one of whom also made it to level 40.

One of those characters came about because of something truly unusual for CO:  new content.  While lockboxes have been the primary push in patches in the game, some actual new missions were put in-and for a change, they weren’t limited time deals, but permanent additions to the game, featuring the crazed robot, Mechanon.  All things considered, I’d call that a successful bit of work for the devs there, given that the game continues to be barely above maintenance mode.  On the other hand, given the activities in STO, I’ve decided that this isn’t a bad thing for CO.  That means that there’s less chance of the game being poisoned by the devs to the point where this one makes me ill as well.

I spent some time playing EVE Online again this last year; I didn’t do a whole lot, but I did manage to get a couple of personal goals complete.  First, I managed to get my character standings high enough to install jump clones at a Sisters of Eve station, and second, I managed to finally delve a shot bit into wormhole space-and nullsec space, which ended rather predictably.  (But I didn’t get pod-killed!)  Juggling a fourth game is asking a bit much, though, so I let the account go dormant again-but I’m reasonably sure that at some point, I’ll have the urge to go back; after all, I’ve still got my eye on one of the exploration ships that the Sisters sell….

My MMO fictional work was limited this year, for a couple of reasons.  The first is that in this year, I’ve not been really attached to any guilds that could be called active; I did make a short attempt to join an RP fleet in STO, but it didn’t really work out-mostly because I just didn’t feel it worked for me there.  So I’ve been doing the solo thing mostly, which has allowed me to spend relatively equal time in the assorted games, but it does tend to get boring without people.  We’ll see how things go next year.  The other reason is that the one story I did do, “Unending”, was another one of my overly-long works, which closed out my City of Heroes stories with a ribbon to tie up my remaining loose ends.  Where I go from here is still up in the air.

The year’s been a somewhat rough one, all told.  While the games I played continue to have their positive points, actions taken by their assorted developers have managed to put a big spike in the enthusiasm.  It could be that I’ve become jaded by my ten years now and have become more cynical in attitude towards the developers.  Or maybe it’s just short-term burnout.  But there’s still a couple of games on the horizon that could displace any one of my current games-so it’s a wait and see situation.  Until then, we’ll see what Year Eleven will hold.

At Last, The End Of The Line (Wait-Isn’t There An Expansion?)

Well, it took a few years to do it-ironically at the time of the 3rd anniversary celebrations-but I’ve finally done it.  Last night, I completed the Jedi Counselor storyline missions, completing Chapter 3 and thus, completing the last of the eight class stories of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The Last Story Ends

Things got a bit dicey at the end of the road, primarily because of the changes to the former skill builds (now “disciplines”).  My character was a Balance Sage, and before the change, I had a pretty good handle on him; after the change, I was starting to get my butt handed to me by Strong opponents.  This required a bit of learning new tactics until I got to the point where I could curbstomp Elite opponents.  (I’ll say this for the Counselor; I never had the same problems with Elites that I had with my Agent.)

In the process, the character got to level 52, which is about where I average out when completing class stories.  One made it to 53, if I recall-I’d made liberal use of xp boosters I get from completing certain missions-and a couple only made it to 50, although to be fair, that was before Makeb raised the level cap from 50 to 55.

Of course, the readers-in-the-know realize that technically, I haven’t finished the class stories; with the expansion of “Shadow of Revan”, there is at least a mini-class story available that continues the stories of these characters at an individual level (as opposed to the generalist level like Ilum, Oricon, and the other assorted content released post-launch).  But I won’t be doing those until Bioware/EA releases the expansion free to subs like they did with Makeb (I figure that puts it around May or June if past history is a guide).

In the meantime, I’ll probably make use of the time to relearn how to do some of these characters again now that their skill trees have been blown away and turned into disciplines.  If nothing else, I need to relearn my Agent and Smuggler characters, and see how they perform.  And maybe I’ll run some of these characters through Makeb and max out their levels-I have remarkably few characters who are actually at the former level cap, and while I doubt any can get to 60 without the expansion, they might at least get pretty close.  Plus, now that training costs have been eliminated (which is worthy of a different post), I can preserve more credits for which I can possibly unlock more rooms for my Kaas and Coruscant strongholds.  (Tatooine is STILL not on the radar, and don’t get me started on flagships.)

I admit I haven’t said much about the storyline for the Counselor; I try not to offer major spoilers.  I failed in the respect that I had planned to take the character seriously Dark Side, though-there wasn’t anything that I felt really that offered an obvious “breaking point” for him.  He isn’t anywhere as Light Side as my Knight, though-I did make a number of DS choices that seemed rational at the time that usually didn’t involve mass casualties.  In the end, though, he made what I would consider the “right” choice, and puts the character in a more positive place than I’d been planning.  Unfortunately (for me), this means that absolutely none of my characters have managed to max out DS points, which would unlock a Legacy power for all the characters on the Legacy.  Even my nastiest character-my Inquisitor-was occasionally tainted by LS choices because of his stance on slavery.  Of course, he’s also one of the characters who haven’t done Makeb yet.  And there’s always the expansion, in time.

Still, despite my intentions, the storyline was enjoyable, and different enough from the others to make it so.  In many ways, it was a more political story than the others, which suits the Counselor perfectly.  After all, the Counselor is a diplomat of sorts, as well as a seeker of knowledge; and both got a workout on his storyline.  He didn’t face the Ultimate Bad Guy of TOR, but he did get to face a danger just as great in its way-and came out with flying colors.  (Well, after being one-shot at one point in that final battle.  I’ll spoil this much:  if you see a power charging up that says “collapsing ceiling”, you REALLY want to use an interrupt.)

I may do another post at one point with my thoughts on the storylines of TOR.  I figure it’s worth remarking upon.

Building Character (AKA “What I’ve been doing in the last month”)

Life’s kept me a bit busy lately, but I have some time to take a look at where things are these days.

I managed to complete the Delta Rising expansion’s story in Star Trek Online with my Klingon character, and as of later today, he’ll have maxed out his Delta Reputation, which means that when I eventually do it for my primary Starfleet and Romulan characters, they’ll have an easier time of it; this is because of the ability to “sponsor” an alt by spending reputation marks to create a token that-when used by the alt-will double the reputation xp of each project.  This effectively means that they can get through that reputation at twice the speed, at roughly half the cost.  That’s a good thing.

My Romulan character is next on the list to go through the expansion, and I’ve actually finished the mission with Neelix already (I got a head start).  Another minor project is something I’d been putting off for too long:  my Borg-ified Starfleet captain, once upon a time, was one I’d planned to have a crew that had almost no humans.  Over time, I managed to get an away team that consisted of all partial-or-fully mechanical characters:  three liberated Borg, one hologram, and one android.  But there was one feather I wanted in my cap as well:  I wanted to finish the Diplomacy path with the game’s duty officers, so I could requisition a KDF alien to include on the crew.  I’m tentatively thinking Gorn, because who doesn’t love a massive lizard-man towering around on the ship.  Not sure what branch of specialization he’ll be; I’ll have to look over my current list of bridge officers before making that call.  I’m hoping to pull that off by the end of the week-I’m close enough to hitting that final Diplomacy tier.

In Champion Online, I’ve not done much lately.  I spent a little time working on a martial-artist sort of character, and despite some rather unpleasant growing pains (or maybe it’s more accurate to say “multiple compound fractures”), he’s actually turning out pretty decently.  I’ve also put in a little bit of time with a bald, green-trenchcoat-wearing, archer guy who would probably look familiar to certain folks.

I’m also looking at my “Reawakened Automaton” character, who I keep meaning to start pushing forward-if only to unlock the special powersets for freeform characters.  I know there are some other ways to do it that don’t take as much work, but heck, it’s about playing the game, right?

Star Wars: The Old Republic also just released its Shadows of Revan expansion-at least for the preordered folks.  I’ve already chosen to just wait until it’s given away to subs in about six months or so, especially since I’m still working on finishing my Jedi Counselor (currently on Voss) to complete my last class story (well, not counting whatever is in the expansion).  I haven’t had a chance to mess with some changes that apply to everyone-the new Discipline system which replaces the original “talent tree” builds.  My gut instinct is not to like ‘em at all, but on the other hand, it’d be wrong to belittle it if I haven’t tried it, so I may have something to say on the subject next time.

Once I have the Counselor done, it’ll be time to do some minor work on the assortment of characters; while the class stories are done, not all of those characters have done Makeb-and certainly not all of them have reached the previous maximum level.  I’m not sure how many levels-if any-I can gain now that the level cap is 60; it may be restricted to people with the expansion (I haven’t really looked into it).  Of course, that’s self limiting by its nature-you get enough levels, and even level 55 bad guys won’t get you anything in the way of XP.  To get to 60, you really do need the expansion.  But I think I’ve demonstrated over the years that I don’t lose much sleep over not being maximum level and doing the endgame stuff.  I may very well decide to start my future project of doing another eight characters to cover the other advanced classes in the game-and maybe even unlock some more species to do some interesting characters.

That said, real life things like the holidays might be its own limiting factor.

Aftermath

Last time around, I spoke of Cryptic/PWE screwups with Star Trek Online.  A bit has happened since then.

After presumed soul-searching, the devs investigated the claims made by some folks who said they lost specialization points that were honestly gained (as opposed to the ones who went grinding for exploits), and eventually made an interesting decision:  they would restore all the points taken, regardless of origin.  The dilithium part of the equation is still gone, and it should be-but the folks who got wronged from all this will have things made right, or at least, that’s what is being said.

But the rioting that went on in the aftermath of the mess before getting to this point seems to have gotten attention-and is causing action to be taken.

One of the major complaints was about the difficulty of the PvE queues, and how they’ve gone way up.  A dev has posted that adjustments are coming; these missions on Advanced and Elite difficulties should not be 100 percent success rates for people, but neither should they have as low a percentage of people succeeding, either.  On the same vein, that same dev has acknowledged the fact that the time taken to do these things are no longer worth the rewards given out; this is also going to be addressed.  Another dev has posted concerning the difficulty of the opposition these days (those massive sacks of health points, for example).  This is being adjusted, too.  (Of course, that one’s coming from a dev whose credibility is a tad suspect, but hell, let’s give him benefit of the doubt-for now.)  Finally, another dev is addressing something that I hadn’t honestly noticed-probably because I haven’t mucked with them-Starship Mastery tiers, which are available on Tier 6 or Tier 5U ships; apparently, the grind for those may be seeing a bit of a drop too.

That’s a lot of positive sounding changes-and a lot of posts with advance notice, too.  I can’t help but wonder if we’d have seen anything like this, though, if the forums hadn’t pretty much melted down in the interim.  It’s also somewhat disturbing to think that it took that riot to hammer it into their heads that players were finding the new expansion-and the stuff that came out of it-decidedly not fun, which is something that leads to people leaving games.

To their credit, none of the posts have said anything like “You’ll end up liking our changes, you’ll see!”  (Not like certain other devs who managed to kill their game and smear their own reps in a somewhat permanent manner.)  The STO devs aren’t sticking with a losing hand; they’re moving to the next hand, and working to improve it.  And that’s a fairly admirable thing to do.  Seeing a mistake and acting to correct it-that matters.

Now, the cynical part of me reminds me that for now, these are just words, and player interpretation of those words usually ends up somewhere north of where things will actually end up.  This may calm things down a bit on the forums, although they’ll never be completely satisfied-and some will still be unimpressed until they see the proof.  As for me, I’ve been more than happy to roast them over the fire for the bad they’ve done; so it seems fair to acknowledge when they’re doing something right.  Following through on this will definitely fit the latter case.

“Oops! We !#%$@ up!”

I debated even posting on the subject, since it’s quite possible that within 24 hours of the post, all might magically be made right.  (You laugh, but it wouldn’t be the first time…)  But I felt that there was enough here to post on it anyway.

It involves Star Trek Online, the Delta Rising expansion, and the concept of consequences.

I’ve remarked in my last post about the issue involving leveling from 50-60; specifically how the new content didn’t actually technically offer the skill points needed to advance a level, how you would have to grind other stuff to make up the difference.  I remarked that this wasn’t so different than how it used to be in the early days of the game, but was effectively displaced by the “1 episode/1 level” idea that seemed to creep into the design philosophy of the game-and how this return was a jarring one.

So, surprise, surprise, people were going to find a way around this.  The best way to experience the content smoothly, they felt, was to power-level.  This involved taking teams of ships on the Elite setting, finding the best xp per level of effort ratio, and grinding that mission repeatedly until they got to level 60, and then playing the content without interruption.  On the face of it, I don’t really have issues with that-and despite what some forum goers are saying, I don’t really believe Cryptic/PWE cared about that side of it.

But, there’s a bit more to the story.  You see, one of the things that the expansion introduced was “Captain Specializations”; you could unlock abilities every time you leveled (or something along those lines-I’m not 100 percent sure exactly how that works out).  There were more abilities to unlock than there were levels left, but you could still unlock them even at max level-skill points you would have gotten to advance a level got applied to the progress needed to unlock a new ability.  But eventually, after presumably a long, long time, you could unlock all the abilities.

And that’s where Cryptic/PWE made their mistake.  After you unlocked all the abilities, instead of getting a new ability point, you would get Dilithium.  The same Dilithium that is used to purchase/create the high-end gear…or exchange for Zen, the PWE cash-shop currency.

So it’s not hard to figure out why, a couple of days ago, the sector block where the mission was located (that effort/skill point ratio I mentioned earlier) mysteriously was locked up, without a word as to why.  People just couldn’t go into the sector block.  (God help the folks who were just trying to run missions as low level Romulans….)  That was when word of the exploit started spreading.  But nobody commented upon it until yesterday, after a patch went in which turned off the Dilithium gain mentioned above, and apparently also nerfing the skill point rewards at assorted difficulty levels.

The official post goes something like this.

The development team became aware of a potential leveling exploit on Wednesday morning, and after initial investigation decided to shut down access to the maps that were being used by the exploiters in order to perform a deeper investigation.

We uncovered some bugs in the game that were definitely not intentional and that could be used to level at a rate significantly faster than anywhere else in the game. Fixes to these bugs are going live today that should remove the exploit. Details of the changes can be found in the release notes.

While many players participated a little in the exploited maps, very few really took advantage of it to excessively level characters. We identified this small number of players, and we have removed the excess levels from these characters.

We apologize for the inconvenience of closed maps during the investigation and for the bugs that led to the scramble around those maps.

~LaughingTrendy

Now, it’s hard to have sympathy for the “small number of players” who ruthlessly took advantage.  It’s one thing to level up to the point where you can play the new content without having to stop and get interrupted by grinding.  But it’s another thing to max everything out and start cashing in the Dilithium-and potentially wrecking the Dilithium economy.  Particularly since Cryptic/PWE rely upon that sort of thing for their own profits.  There was no way they were going to let that go on for long.  They way they dealt with this was heavy handed, though-locking the entire sector block instead of shutting off missions.  Maybe that’s as granular as they could get-maybe that was the only way they could stop it.  Maybe.

Of course, things don’t end there.  It seems that a whole lot of people are now reporting having lost specialization points-significantly more than this “small number of players”.  It seems that if you were even in Tau Dewa at all, you were a suspect-and got stripped of points if you happened to be at level 60 and had an excess of those points.  I imagine that the intent was to slam the folks who had maxed everything out-but there was plenty of space for folks who had legitimately gotten a number of skill points beyond level 60.  And they got slammed too.

Granted:  there’s every possibility that a lot of the people protesting this are exaggerating.  I know-the idea that a forum goer may offer information with no proof that it actually happened?  Inconceivable!  But…even if they are protesting innocence too loudly, that’s still a larger volume than a “small number of players”.  And if that’s the case, the devs have gotten really heavy-handed with their hammer.

There is no way to know, of course, if something harsher hit those small number (like, say, bans), but I imagine we’ll never hear about it.  What is apparent is that Cryptic/PWE handled this very badly-especially if some of the claims on the forums are true that this exploit existed and was reported on the test server-and allowed to go live anyway.  And given their actions over recent months, the lack of player trust in their word has become more and more apparent-and incidents like this isn’t going to help.

Full disclosure:  this event didn’t impact me one bit.  I’d seen things in zone chat about groups going to the mission involved here, but hadn’t put it together as being power-leveling; I remember thinking that it was odd that there’d be a full team looking to do that one specific mission.  Makes sense in hindsight.  My path to filling in the blank spots in the leveling path doesn’t give me heaps of skill points-and I’ve never been so glad that I tend to take my time on these things.  It’s not hard for me to imagine being in the same boat as others hit with the hammer.

Delta is Change

Welp, last week the long-awaited/dreaded expansion for Star Trek Online hit in the form of “Delta Rising”.  I’ve had a bit to say on this leading up to release-most of which was bad-based on the information let out through their web site.  But now, it’s time to take a peek at just what we wound up getting.

The backstory is pretty straightforward; after the events of the “New Accord” which declared, if not peace, at least a cessation of hostilities between the Klingon Empire and the Federation, in addition to the very recently acquired access to the Delta Quadrant-an area of space most famous for having been the area in the galaxy where the U.S.S. Voyager was stranded, the new Alliance between the Empire, Federation, and the Romulan Republic have chosen to take a look around the Delta Quadrant vicinity-and not coincidentally give the players their first opportunities to interact with species and situations left over after the Voyager made it home.  In fact, leading this fleet of allied governments is Admiral Tuvok, in command of the ship that had made that journey home.

A Klingon at Ops; Harry Kim would be proud.

Without going too much into the details of the story thus far-I’ve only gotten to level 55 so far-I’d have to say it’s not bad.  There is a liberal sprinkling of appearances of members of the original Voyager crew; in fact, not only do we get the crew, but also voice-over work from the actors that portrayed them.  Not all are present, but we get some of the unique personalities-Seven, Neelix, Kim, and the Doctor-not to mention Tuvok himself.  The story itself is a little over the place to start with as your ship checks the area around their base of operations, but it soon starts looking like there’s something really big and bad in the area that is beating the tar out of the Borg-which, admittedly, would be more intimidating if the players weren’t beating the tar out of the Borg in the Alpha Quadrant.  Could it be Iconians?  Or could it be another species on the rise?  One such species seems to be reasserting itself strongly.

Like these guys. Don’t they look friendly?

I’ll undoubtedly do a follow up on this once I’ve completed the Delta Quadrant episodes.  But I’ve done enough to have a couple of other observations.

The first is the leveling path.  The first thing you see after you do your first Delta Quadrant mission is a popup message saying that yes, they know you didn’t level after finishing the mission, and that you shouldn’t expect to level after a single mission-that it’s more difficult to level than the standard path prior to level 50.  I, of course, was not impressed.  I remember when it wasn’t possible to level from a single episode-mission.  Back in the day, I needed to do patrol missions and/or some exploration missions to make up the difference (and actually, you usually had to do at least a couple episodes).  But that was before the development team decided to make episodes the end-all/be-all of the leveling path.  Now it looks like they’ve decided to go back to it with these new missions.  Of course, there isn’t any exploration anymore, but you do have access to the PvE queues instead.  And this is actually only really a problem for characters who have already done all the episodic content prior to Delta Rising.  If you happen to have a legion of alts, you probably didn’t do all the episodes-you probably just did enough to get them to 50.  Which means you can probably get a good boost before going into Delta.

Why is that important?  Because, as alluded to above, you wind up in situations where you complete the episodes and you see “you can’t do the next mission until you get a new level”.  So you sort of want to have those levels in your back pocket as early as possible before you hit the wall.  A number of players have found ways to deal with this, and I’m not going to go over them here.  Suffice it to say, there are several ways a player can get the skill points he needs to advance to the next level-and thus, open up the next section of content.

One of those ways-in the low 50s-is Kobali Prime.  It’s sort of like New Romulus and the Dyson Sphere’s battlezone rolled into one.  The natives are under attack, and your actions will help them survive the attack-but in the process, you learn things aren’t exactly black and white.  Moral dilemmas…now that’s Star Trek for you.

Looks like such a nice place, doesn’t it? I’m sure the shield generator is just there for decoration.

As you may notice from some of these shots, I have indeed followed up on my promise to eschew Starfleet for my first run through this content and have sided with the Klingons; when Cryptic/PWE remembers that Star Trek is about exploration, then we’ll consider Starfleet my primary character, but until then, I’ll stick with conquest.  This additionally allowed me to see that the devs have a somewhat…inconsistent view of the Klingons.  In these missions, there were choices in dialogue that made me feel exactly like a Klingon would-and there were times when I couldn’t believe the saccharine garbage coming out of the character’s mouth.  Things that sound natural from a graduate of Starfleet Academy sound completely out of character for a member of the Klingon Empire-even if the character is one of the KDF allied species.  It seems to me that some of the writing could use a second pass-through.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remark on some of the considerable controversies rolling around at the moment.  The tier-6/tier-5 upgrade mess continues to fuel flames, particularly now that the price points are out.  3000 Zen for a tier-6 ship, or 700 Zen for a tier-5 upgrade token.  Note that the tier 5 ships generally sell at 2500 Zen, and that the upgrade tokens don’t let the upgraded ship be quite as good as a tier-6, and you can see why there’s a bit of anger going on.  (And you can also see why the devs did it that way, too-because players will always take the path of least resistance.)  Then you have the difficulty settings.  Prior the the release, players knew that the difficulty settings were going to be threefold now for the various queues:  Normal, Advanced, and Elite, where the old Elite would be Advanced now, and the Elite would be the toughest of the tough (and Normal unchanged).  Well, what happened was that all levels were increased in difficulty, and the rewards were nerfed, which seems to have…irritated a fair chunk of forum-goers who play queues a lot.  As someone who doesn’t do a lot of the queued content, I haven’t had a chance to really determine how much of this is accurate and how much of it is perception, but the fact that crypticgeko (yeah, that one; I’ve mentioned him a number of times before in less-than-flattering terms) put up a forum post and…well, let’s let the man speak for himself.

New Difficulty – Star Trek Online
Delta Rising was a massive addition, and we anticipate that we will need to make adjustments. So over the next few weeks expect changes in the baseline difficulty, advanced difficulty, and elite difficulty – and also expect rewards to change as we gather more metrics on play-times and success rates.

Our goal was to make basic difficulty and the story content something everyone can play – even with a standard T5 ship. Levels 1-50 are generally pretty easy at basic difficulty, so we felt 51-60 should step things up a bit. Although we expect 51-60 accessible everyone, those in T5 ships and non-upgraded gear should to start to feel a definite challenge as they approach level 60. We expect Advanced to be for more skilled players and those who have invested in the game (ships and gear). And we expect Elite to be for the best of the best. We don’t expect most players to succeed on elite difficulty.

If I were to guess, I would expect basic to get some minor tuning, Advanced to get a little easier and Elite to get a lot harder – and rewards, like dilithium rewards, could potentially go up across queues once we are sure we are hitting the right mark. But this is just my guess at this time.

From the sounds of it, they didn’t quite get it right, did they?  Of course, I wouldn’t depend on his guesses; but that’s my personal issues with the man, so I could be an unreliable narrator on that one.

Despite my issues, I’ve enjoyed the expansion so far.  I like what they’ve done with the actors from Voyager, and the episodes have been pretty fun-even if some of the starships seem like a big fat bag of health.

That said:  there area  few bugs that occasionally show up in the game that could probably use some looking at.

Klingon transwarp technology could probably use a bit more polishing.

Shadow of…Makeb?

Okay, now that I have some time to post, and have had time to think on what to post, I’m ready to talk about Shadow of Revan, the upcoming expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The setup is simple:  Revan, the hero/antihero of the original Knights of the Old Republic is back.  (He’s actually sort of been back, but I’ll avoid spoilers in case someone out there hasn’t actually done a set of four flashpoints that were in the game at the beginning.)  Due to events that happened in the “Forged Alliances” flashpoints (which I’ll also try to be vague on), a man claiming to be Revan has more or less declared war on both the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire-and he’s got the forces to at least get their attention.

The question of whether or not this is actually the Revan is likely to be a question explored in the expansion; whether or not he is, though, is largely irrelevant if his followers believe it.  For the sake of convenience, I’ll keep calling him Revan; it’s easier than “the man claiming to be Revan”.

Of course, this has gotten some purists upset; I’m not one of them, primarily because I don’t have the emotional attachment of having ever played Knights of the Old Republic.  (I had finally picked up the game years ago, but I made the mistake of picking up at the same time a little game called Star Wars Galaxies.  MMOs are black holes from which there is no escape…)  From what I have heard about the game and the character background, not to mention the events of those four flashpoints I mentioned, I could easily believe that Revan could decide “a pox on both your houses”.  The circumstances of how he made it hundreds of years after KotR could be enough to twist anyone-and let’s face it, Revan has never been the poster child for mental stability.

The expansion will theoretically cover two planets, and include-for the first time-new class stories.  The devs have indicated that they won’t be at the same level as the class stories in the original game here, but that doesn’t bother me either; even if they turn out to be short side-stories, they’re still worth having.  A smuggler is going to look at the events differently than a Jedi or a Trooper.

One thing that does bother me a bit, though, is one of the big changes coming with the expansion:  a revamp of the skill trees.

Your New Skill…Thing

The skill trees are history, to be replaced by something called Disciplines.  The devs figured that there were certain skills in the various advanced classes that are taken because they are seen as essential, so they’ve folded them into the various “disciplines” as being gained automatically, but left in the other stuff as being selectable by any of the trees.  So, for example, if you’re a Concealment Operative, you get abilities from the Concealment Discipline-and can select other skills as you level from all of the former available branches (eg. Lethality and Medicine for an Operative).  Those are called “Utility Selections”.  I’m not one hundred percent sold on this.  That said, if you like your build now, it’s probably a good idea to record somewhere what that build actually is so you can put it together again-hopefully-with the new disciplines.

That change will affect everyone, regardless of whether or not they buy the expansion.  And there’s another rub.

The last time Bioware/EA put up an expansion for cash in this game was Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  There was a preorder with useful bonuses, and if I remember right, subscribers got a discount (I could be remembering wrong, though; been a while).  And this wasn’t considered a big deal.  But five months later, the devs made RotHC free for subscribers.  Now, I don’t have an issue with an expansion being made free after a period of time, but five months was ridiculous.  Now, if you purchase Shadow of Revan, you’ll get RotHC free, regardless of whether or not you subscribe.  And I’m actually okay with that part; this IS about the length of time I’d expect that sort of thing to happen.  But five months was basically (and I hate using the term since it’s so damned overused) a slap in the face to the people who bought the expansion-especially if you weren’t a preorder for it.  When Galactic Starfighter was released, I’d posted that it was a good thing that it was being put in for free, because who would be dumb enough to pay for it after that RotHC stunt?

I stand corrected.  Post after post on the official forums indicate a wave of preorders.  I can’t bring myself to do it; the preorder perks mean nothing to me.  I have exactly one alt who I want to get through the class story, so the 12X class story xp means nothing to me; I could care less about a massive statue of Revan for my stronghold, as he’s sort of the antagonist of the expansion here thus far; I already have RotHC; and a 7-day headstart isn’t floating my boat.  So there’s no benefit to preordering for me-and given that I believe there’s a fair chance that this expansion will also be given away free for subs in six months, I feel no immediate desire to purchase the expansion.  And that’s Bioware/EA’s fault for setting that precedent.

Let’s not end this on a sour note.  I did, over the weekend, finally open up my last room for my Nar Shadda stronghold.  I’d blown a heap of Cartel Coins hoarded from my stipend for one room, but the rest was all in credits-including the last 2.2 million credit balcony, which represents the largest amount of credits I’ve had on one character in that game-ever.  Maybe that’ll be one good thing that comes out of Shadow of Revan:  with everyone running the new content, I’ll not have to compete with other players to finish objectives in the open worlds on Ilum, Oricon, and the Czerka base to rebuild a nest egg (which will allow me purchase more decorations or stuffs off of GTN).

Aside

And naturally, not even a couple hours after I finished writing up my last post, Bioware announces massive changes to the class system.  Plus the release of a new paid expansion.  So the next post is probably going to involve ranting.

Aside on the Old Republic