Monthly Archives: March 2012

Death in the Foul Cascade

You always know where I am going when I have the word “death” in the title of an instance group post.

It was Saturday night, we had the group together, we were in the right level range, we had somebody in the support role, and we were ready to go.  Our line up for the night was:

  • Earlthecat level 29 warrior
  • Jollyreaper level 28 mage
  • Gizalia level 28 mage
  • Hillmar level 28 cleric
  • Zahihawass level 28 cleric

And we were going to use the Looking For Group tool because we had already done the walk across Scarlet Gorge once and, while the place is pretty, we weren’t certain we could find the Foul Cascade again in a reasonable amount of time.

I'm even reusing last week's image

And so we were into the instance pretty quickly.

Here we are again!

More after the cut because of the usual profusion of screen shots as well as some modest spoilers about fights.

Continue reading

With Vanguard Going Free to Play, PlanetSide Becomes the Last SOE Subscription Based MMO

In November of last year, when EverQuest II slated to go fully free to play, I asked the obvious question;  which of the remaining SOE subscription MMOs would also go free to play?

Back then, only four games remained subscription based.  And even then, rumblings seemed to indicate Vanguard might have a free to play role in the line up.  That was clearly the wave of the future at SOE.

The SOE Options in November 2011

With the announcement today that Vanguard is going to go free to play (FAQ here), there is only one subscription MMO left in the SOE lineup.  PlanetSide stands alone.

As of Today

What will happen to PlanetSide while SOE works on PlanetSide 2?

Will SOE keep it as a subscription game for now?  Will they make it free or free to play?  Or will it go away before its successor shows up?

There do not seem to be any good choices in that mix.

The (Over?) Power of Mercenaries!

Still infused with our fresh wave of EverQuest nostalgia, Potshot and I were out of the tutorial and in old Norrath again.  My warrior and his bard were both level 11, we each had a mercenary in tow, and we wanted to see how we might fare in the world.

It is a big world, and where to go is always a challenge.  And this all the more with the Plane of  Knowledge available to us, since we can drop in on so many places without much travel time.  But without a lot of time to invest in researching where we should go, it had to be some place obvious.

The game itself suggested Blackburrow when we hit level 11, which seemed kind of low level.  I suggested West Karana, which has a variety of things to go after, and Potshot agreed.  It is one of those classic zones where nobody ever hangs out.

West Karana all on One Map

(Map image from Phoenix Dragoons site)

My thought was bandit camps.  That was something of a known quantity for us after last year on the Fippy Darkpaw server.  And though we were a level or two up on where we were when we started on bandits back then, adds and aggro management was still a danger to us at our level.

So we waded into the bandits.  First in the smaller groups that are on the plains around the farm, then later into the larger groups up in the hills.  And we were pretty much invincible.

Bandit Problems? Call Mercs R Us!

We went through a few rounds of clearing out bandit camps, including spawns with the ever annoying (and often deadly), casting bandits.

Basically, any time we were coming up short, the mercenaries picked up the slack.

It was nice to see that my mercenary, the healer, would not only heal Potshot and myself, but would also heal Potshot’s tank mercenary along with herself.  In fact, there were times when we seemed to be somewhat superfluous to the fight.

In the picture above, we had managed to pull the whole camp of bandits.  That looked like trouble.  But my merc pulled aggro on the whole group by healing me and ended up off tanking everything while just standing there healing once in a while.  Meanwhile, Potshot’s merc was doing more damage than either of us.  I tried to look effective by taunting so I could at least tank one of the bandits.

At more than one point in these fights it looked like we could have just stepped back and let the bots clean things up.  There were a couple of fights where us focusing on the right bandit first, like the level 12 casters, needed our involvement.  But we clearly had to screw things up mightily to worry about a wipe.

After demonstrating clear mastery over bandits, I ran us over to the farm fields to chase scarecrows. (Scarecrows were one of my early favorite models.  I like light shining out of their faces and the way they move.)

Here, due to bad placement and wide ranging scarecrow movement, we ended up taking on three scarecrows in a chain.  We never had to face more than two at once, but these were mobs were red to us.

Scarecrow in West Karana

And while I was nervous going in, especially when we started getting adds, we ended up knocking off the scarecrows without much drama.  The mercenaries kept us going, again doing the healing and most of the damage.  I managed to taunt well enough to tank and pretend I was making a difference, but I was pretty sure again that we could have gone off for tea and the mercs would have cleaned up for us.

The experience was pretty good though.  I was seeing 12% of a level from each scarecrow.  That got me well into level 12 and tipped Potshot into that level as well.

We did eventually meet our match.  A wandering spirit roamed by us, looking like four wisps glued together in two pairs, and I immediately tagged it, only to find we were taking serious damage from it without doing much of our own.

I quickly googled the mob and found it on Zam and found that it was level 25.  I suppose here was the test.  It was pretty clear that we were not going to be able to bring it down, but we hung around in the fight long after we should of to see how long we would last.  In what I would call a 7 minute battle (estimating methodology: take how long the fight seemed and cut that time at least in half, because people always over estimate) the mercenaries covered for us and stayed up until the healer ran out of mana.  And then it was slow death, all of us dropping one by one.

The mercenaries went down first.  Then, when we finally decided it was high time to leave, we could never quite get away as the wandering spirit would root us.  So we died too, a full wipe.

We were then back at the Plane of Knowledge, where Potshot discovered he lost a level.  So we ran out quickly and got that back before calling it a night.

This was my first real “out in the world” use of mercenaries in EverQuest.  They seem pretty powerful, considering we were using a pair of apprentice mercs. I suspect that this will even out some as we level up.

Now we just have to figure out where we should go in the world with this group to get us in range of the Lost Dungeons of Norrath content.

Norrath is such a big place and there are so many choices at any level.

Looking For Blog Name Ideas

I am thinking about changing the name of the blog.

This is not as surprising as it might sound.  I have been thinking about it since about two days after I started it.

I picked the current name on a whim and have been vaguely dissatisfied with it ever since.

Such is life.

This time around I though I would ask for read input.  I need some creativity, because there are constraints.

I cannot bear to give up the current address so I can maintain the illusion that I have a decent readership.  I don’t want to change the URL and find out just how many people keep me in their RSS reader out of laziness.  After five years and almost 2,500 posts later, I am sure there are a few people who would not notice if I stopped posting.  So any new name must fit the acronym TAGN.

Plus I obviously worked so hard on this logo!

So who can come up with a potential blog name that fits the acronym and also keeps gaming… and online gaming if possible… in the picture as well?

I thought about Triaminoguanidine Nitrate, since it is designated by those four letters and seems inseparably associated with the blog on Google, but it doesn’t really get across the right idea.

So I am looking for some brain storming out there.

Treat this as a word game.  Find something that fits the acronym.

EverQuest Tutorial – Not Quite Ready for Prime Time, But Where Else Are You Going to Go?

Ever eager to ride whatever EverQuest nostalgia wave rolls in, both Potshot and I have been rolling up characters on the new Vox server now that EverQuest has gone free to play.  This was egged on by the epic opening post for the EverQuest goes Free to Play thread on the Something Awful forums, which may be one of the best summations and guides to the game I have ever seen. (And it is, for the moment, up to date, unlike a lot of what you find when you use Google.)

However, one of the problems with the whole thing is that the EverQuest tutorial doesn’t seem to be quite up to the task due to what seems to be problems of SOEs own making.

A tutorial instance can hold up to 100 characters.  This I know because SOE broadcasts that number quite regularly as the tutorial instances exceed this limit quite regularly.

More than 100 is bad

How do they manage that?

Well, you will note that I said 100 “characters” and not “users,” or “accounts.”

It seems that mercenaries count towards the total in the instance, and they are characters of a sort.  SOE put them in the total of players for the zone.

One aspect new to the tutorial since I last ran it is an NPC who tells you about mercenaries and lets you acquire one right there to use in the tutorial.  The thing is, people enter the tutorial individually, and then within a few minutes have a mercenary added to the total.  And then the zone-wide announcement starts that there are 104 players in the instance and the server will be suspending some mercenaries to reduce that count.  Which is all very amusing until it is your mercenary that gets the chop.

Hard to read, I know. Click to see full size

Which makes me wonder why SOE routes so many people into a given instance of the tutorial in the first place.  100 players, even if it is 50 people with 50 mercenaries, is too much for the zone.  The place is packed, often out numbering quest mobs by a significant ratio.  Any “kill that one guy” quest can turn into a competing camp fest, all the more so if it is like the Kobold Locksmith who drops on key per spawn, so if you are in a group, you need to kill him once for each person.  All while other people are milling around trying to grab him as well.

Of course, there are alternatives to the tutorial.  Crescent Reach, jewel of The Serpent’s Spine expansion and the city to which all new free accounts are initially sent, has quests starting at level 1.

Start your questing right here!

It is pretty easy to get there even, you just exit through the cave at the back of the slave revolt where all the training NPCs are and you get plopped down right in Crescent Reach.

Unfortunately, I had done the Crescent Reach quest chain through into the 20s before, and I just wasn’t up to it again.  It very much follows the “kill 10 rats” thing over and over again.  That is not EverQuest to me.  Furthermore, the communication for quests is always a bit annoying.  Not as trial and error as the MUD days, but it can get on your nerves if you are doing a lot of quests.

And I do not recall any big rewards from the quests in Crescent Reach.  The tutorial quests, if you completed them, now send you out well equipped to face the world.  I wasn’t sure I would get the same thing in the city of the Drakkin.

So I decided to scout ahead, to get to Qeynos and see how things looked there, which meant getting to the book that takes you to the Plane of Knowledge from where I could teleport to Qeynos.  Qeynos would be familiar and I though maybe I could run the noob armor quests there.  They are more like the quest EQ should have, a long list of things to procure with no need to run back and get a new quest over and over.

Back when The Serpent’s Spine expansion was young, the PoK book was way the heck out in the next zone over.  I was only level 5 at this point and did not want to risk dying on the run across the big zone to get to the book, so I broke down and bought a horse from the Station Cash store.  I have a pile of Station Cash from a triple cash sale they had last year, so in real dollars the horse wasn’t that expensive… at least it did not seem so until I realized I had a free horse I could /claim on my account.  Ah well, I will save that for another character.

So I got out on the horse, with its sill animation, and rode across the zone to where I expected to find the PoK book… where it was marked on my map… where I had visited it before.  And it wasn’t there.

A few questions on the OOC channel helped me locate it.  SOE decided to fix their own “run across the wetlands” low level trial and moved the book to just outside of the canyon that leads to Crescent Reach.

There is the book!

Potshot, on as the bard Garfinkel, joined me and jumped to the Plane of Knowledge, where we bound ourselves, and then jumped to Qeynos.

The big Q was still there and a few players were visible, having also decided to skip the tutorial for more nostalgic pastures.

The problem was that the quest armor NPCs were gone.  The armor quests that we had such a good time running down a year back on the Fippy Darkpaw server were not there on Vox.

While we were they, we killed a few things.  I even got a pair of crude defiant boots as a drop, which appear to be, compared stat for stat… and in color as well, pretty much the same as the equipment you get in the tutorial.  However, the drops are random so you are not really in control of your destiny.

After playing in front of Qeynos for a bit, we pretty much decided to grit our teeth and get the tutorial finished so as to be equipped to face the world.

Of course, that was back to the old set of problems.  In addition to lots of people hunting the same thing, just getting into the same instance of the tutorial together as well as into one with enough space that we could have our mercenaries presented a challenged of its own.  I saw somebody say on OCC that there was a way to switch versions of the tutorial from the Plane of Knowledge, but that tidbit came so late in our adventures that I never ran it down.

But we did manage to pick our way through and finish out all the key quests that had equipment as rewards, ending on the battle with Overlord Gnikan for the Freedom’s Stand group quest.  For this one a stranger actually joined our group.  I had tried to find groups in the past, but with mercenaries, everybody seemed to want to try to solo every thing.

The battle with Gnikan

Freedom’s Stand was an important quest for me, as the reward was a new weapon.  Weapons are the one thing I will go out of my way to obtain.  My memories of EQ are always colored by the constant search for a weapon upgrade.

Oddly, the Station Cash store will sell you armor set kits that will fit you out appropriate for your level, but there are not any weapons in the store.  The one piece of equipment I would consider buying.  Anyway, the quest reward weapon was a serious upgrade from the initial weapon you are given.

Not a huge damage machine, but fast and with lots of stats, most of which increase as you level up.

And so it was last night that Potshot and I finally finished the EQ tutorial zone.

Wilhelm and Garfinkel in Tutorial Blue Armor

Thanks to crowding in the tutorial zone, it took quite a while to get through it.

Tutorial quest log, four nights of questing

Alone, we could have bowled through the quest chain in a couple of hours.  But where is the fun in that?

And being done, we bid farewell to the Mines of Gloomingdeep.  I only died there once this time.

Yeah, don't go into that one cave alone...

We headed to Crescent Reach, where we stayed only long enough to get to the Plane of Knowledge Book and teleport out.  On the PoK, we found the armor quest guy who sent us off to more familiar places.

Seriously, where does this eerie light come from?

Now to figure out our post-tutorial plan.  Do we do some old-school camping in the Karanas?  How do we get started with the Lost Dungeons of Norrath?  What gear quests should we be looking for?  And am I going to be able to afford this mercenary once they start charging me for it?

Diablo III – Hey, This Might Ship on May 15

One of the big announcements last week was that Diablo III was slated to be released on May 15, 2012.

There were lots of re-broadcasts of that announcement.  It was big news.  I think one of my favorites was from the team over at Runic Games, who are making Torchlight II, clearly a Diablo III competitor.  Their message makes clear what most of us know, that there is room for more than one game in any genre.  I am on board for both games.

In fact I have been checking my account every so often to see if I have been let into the Diablo III beta.  Not that I want to test, or even need some help on deciding if I want to buy it or not… I am already committed via the WoW 1 year subscription deal…  but just because I want to play the game already.

I won’t say I have been waiting for this for 10 years… I was a long time enjoying Diablo II and its expansion… but clearly there has been some need for it for the last 5-7 years.  How long has it been since 800×600 was an acceptable maximum resolution for a game?  That wasn’t so bad when we all had analog CRT monitors, but in the age of LCD displays which really, really want to display in their native resolution, it has gotten tiresome.

My honest first thought on playing World of Warcraft was, “Why wasn’t this ‘World of Diablo?'” (Of course, if you look past the graphics and the lore, a lot of WoW was borrowed from Diablo, but that is another story.)

Anyway, when I checked this past weekend, I found that I was still not in the beta.  Oh well.

However, my account was active for certain aspects of Diablo III.  I could download the installer and I could set up parental controls.  I went for the installer, which seemed like a better idea than trying to download SWTOR for a free day of play, and which was an overnight download as well.

7.6 GB of download later...

And so there it is, the installer splash screen.  But that is about all there is to it at this point.  If I try to install, all I get is this message.

No install for you... yet

But at least the installer is there and waiting for me.  Only two months left before I can start patching and playing.

Back when the Activision-Blizzard quarterly report said that Diablo III was slated for Q2 2012, I assumed the usual Blizzard math, which requires you advance by one unit whatever estimate they give you unless they give you the actual launch day.

This time though, they look to be on track.  Granted they had to pull PvP from the game, but my response to that was pretty much, “PvP?”