Monthly Archives: May 2013

Patch 5.3: Well, That Escalated Quickly

Standard

I’m a little delayed, I know, since Escalation, World of Warcraft’s third content patch for Mists of Pandaria, was released about a week ago, but I’ve been a bit distracted by other things.  The bright side is that it’s given me a week to really delve into the content and see what the community at large thinks about it.

The first two patches were pretty expansive, introducing new areas, new factions to earn rep with, and taking several days or even weeks to complete.  It was almost overwhelming the first time I stepped into the 5.2 content — the mobs were a bit challenging, even with my shadow priest’s excellent gear, and the list of Things To Do was as long as my arm (granted, I’m kind of short and stubby, but you get what I mean).  Just when I thought I’d finished it all, I discovered the Isle of Giants and honestly at that point was so winded by everything else I said “screw it, I’ll go back and do it later.”  I still haven’t even gone into LFR for Throne of Thunder.  I was actually a little nervous once 5.3 was released so quickly, thinking that I was going to be hopelessly behind until at least 6.0.

Yeah.  Totally finished 5.3 in a day.  Hot damn.

This is where the first grumbles I’ve heard come in — compared to its predecessors, Escalation is really small.  Yesterday I heard someone say that she hated it because “there was no climax” to the story.  Let’s look at the definition of “escalation”:

es·ca·late  (sk-lt)
v. es·ca·lat·edes·ca·lat·inges·ca·lates
v.tr.
To increase, enlarge, or intensify: escalated the hostilities in the Persian Gulf.
v.intr.
To increase in intensity or extent: “a deepening long-term impasse that is certain to escalate” (Stewart L. Udall)

And things in the story are definitely increasing in intensity.  The Darkspear leader, Vol’jin, has the backing of both Horde and Alliance to take over for Hellscream and his harsh, often irresponsible rule.  Voices of dissent are becoming louder.  How long will it be before a real move is made against Orgrimmar and Vol’jin is declared Warchief?  Is he truly a better option than Hellscream?  Are there other players lurking in the wings?  The answers, presumably, will be coming in 5.4.  With a couple more planned content patches still being worked on, bringing the story to a major pinnacle now would mean that everything to follow would either have to match in epic scope or would be a steady decline back into “blah,” and that’s really not the most engaging way to tell a story, especially in an interactive form of media like a game.  Rocketing straight to “ULTIMATE BADASS OF ULTIMATE BADASSERY” without any real build-up is cheap and unfulfilling, especially when there’s so much to look at with regards to lore.

Speaking of lore, complaints have also been rolling in about how it’s dumb that the Alliance would be helping to put Vol’jin on the throne… wait, is it a throne?  Big spiky chair?  Place where the Warchief sits?  Whatever.  But Hellscream has already crossed lines that Thrall would have avoided altogether.  Remember the fate of Anduin Wrynn at the end of 5.1?  Under Thrall’s rule, the Horde and Alliance didn’t exactly have a truce, but Hellscream has proven himself to be a steamroller of destruction not just for his own people, but for the Alliance, as well.  It is in everybody’s best interests if the proverbial loose cannon is replaced by a more reasonable leader.  Given the Darkspear tribe’s main goal of just trying to rebuild their home post-Cataclysm versus command-and-conquer, a little cooperation from the Alliance (entirely possible, given Anduin’s tendency to seek peace rather than war) could mean that these two factions might even be able to reach a cease-fire.

It’s also been said that Blizzard is showing clear favor to the Horde with 5.3 content and that the Alliance don’t have as immersive or enriching of an experience on their side of the fence.  I haven’t brought an Alliance character through, but I will just point out that since the beginning of World of Warcraft, the Horde have been claiming that the devs are favoring the Alliance while the Alliance claim that the devs are favoring the Horde.  I played both sides of the same server once and let me tell you, the arguments were exactly the same except for the faction names being switched around.  Even if there really was “favoritism” going on in this patch, I can almost guarantee you that 5.4 will shift focus the other way and ultimately balance everything out.  Mists of Pandaria is proving to have one of the most intricate and expansive storylines yet, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s that there’s always a method to the madness.  I have complete confidence that by the end of the Mists content, everyone will be sitting in there chairs going “OHHH!  That’s where they were going with it!”

In addition to drawing out the dramatic tension in the storyline, 5.3 is also serving as a great catch-up for those who don’t have regular access to raids, are trying to gear out alts, or who have just started playing.  During the Battlefield: Barrens event, players can complete a weekly quest to gather 100 each of four different materials and turn them in to receive one Radiant Mojo.  When combined with a piece of Latent gear, which has a decent chance to drop off of the very mobs being killed to complete the quest or can be purchased in exchange for more materials, the Radiant Mojo will create a piece of item level 489 gear specific to the player’s spec and class (489 is on par with Valor gear).  In one week, I ended up with three sets of shoulders, a pair of pants, and a belt.  Before combining them with the mojo, the items aren’t soulbound, meaning you can trade with other players for pieces you need, sell them for profit, or send them to alts.  It’s an amazing alternative to having to grind out the “oldschool” Pandaria reputations and run heroics ad nauseum to get Valor points — the payout for heroic runs in Mists versus Cataclysm is incredibly small.  With each patch, Blizzard has been making it easier for players to get caught up with their rep.  In 5.1, we got commendations that would allow all characters on our account to receive a major boost to rep gains as long as one character had received at least Revered status with the faction that the commendation was purchased from.  5.2 gave us work orders on our farm and the ability to “star” reputations while running dungeons for extra reputation towards that faction once per day.  Golden Lotus rep is no longer required to serve as a gateway for Shado-Pan and August Celestials quests.  The Latent gear offers an alternative to the grind so that new or hopelessly behind players can focus on newer reputations that offer higher item level rewards.

That’s the beauty of 5.3 — it offers multiple ways to achieve a goal.  Besides the alternate path to 489 gear, which is easily enough to get players into LFR, there’s also several ways you can get the materials needed to complete the Battlefield: Barrens weekly quest.  Mobs in the highlighted areas on the map have a 100% drop rate of the items you need.  There’s also physical objects that can be gathered, like barrels of oil or crates of meat, and have a chance to yield more materials than individual mob kills.  Occasionally a caravan, laden with the precious materials you require, will start out from one area in The Barrens and require your protection from raiders on the way to its destination.  Keep the caravan safe, and you’ll be given a crate of bonus supplies that contains a fair chunk of each of the kind required to complete your quest objectives.  If a caravan is overturned, those who get to the site quickly enough will find its contents strewn through the wreckage for yet another quick burst towards completion.

Arguments are, of course, being made that Blizzard is rewarding players who are one or all of the following:

  • lazy
  • noobs
  • casual
  • scrubs
  • (insert colorful accusation of homosexuality here)

Still others are sitting around in their gear from heroic Throne of Thunder and complaining that it isn’t fair because none of the gear offered in Escalation is an upgrade for them.  So essentially, those ranting about the Latent gear are either elitist or greedy, and definitely selfish.  These are the kids on the playground who want first pick of the swings and don’t mind pushing the smaller kids down into the dirt to get to them.  If they’re not having fun, then why should anyone else be allowed to have fun?  I imagine they’re also the type who, when losing at a board game, scream “I WIN” and knock all the pieces onto the floor.  As a funny sidenote, I’ve also noticed that most of these same kids claiming to be “oldschool” players who remember what the game was like “before easy mode” started playing World of Warcraft a full two or three years after I did.  If I really wanted to be a jerk, I could give these bullies a taste of their own medicine, but I’m more concerned with watching the player base grow rather than trying to impose some sort of social restriction that if you started playing after x date, you’re not allowed to do anything.  Oh noes, the purples are accessible to everyone!  The Legendary questline still isn’t.  Hell, I still need like 15 of the Sigils from the first part; I just don’t have the time or the patience to get them, and I’m fine with that.  So is every other casual player I know.  The hardcore and progression-based raiders are going to make up the majority of the I Haz Orange Weapons club.  The devs are not vomiting max-level gear all over everyone quite as freely as the vocal naysayers would have us believe.  It’s going to be okay, guys.  I promise.

Beyond the gear and the inevitable controversy surrounding it, we also get six heroic scenarios!  Hurray!  They are definitely more of a challenge than the original batch — bring your best game and halfway-decent gear if you want to succeed — but they’re still a quick and enjoyable way to get Valor points.  Even with the alternate path to Valor-quality gear, the Upgrade ethereals are back, and with reduced Valor and Justice costs.  Pet battles have been retooled a bit with regards to hit chance, and tooltips will now reflect this as a way to help battlers decide which attacks to use.  A new chapter of Raiding With Leashes has opened up with the obtainable pets dropping off of Burning Crusade-era raid bosses; finally, an excuse to go back to Karazhan!  There’s also one obtainable from turning in a Radiant Mojo to the Darkspear quartermaster at Razor Hill, a handful now available off of Throne of Thunder bosses, some Isle of Thunder and Isle of Giants drops, and a new wild pet for Northrend, which has the misfortune of being called an Unborn Val’kyr and looking like a baby angel.

There’s still a lot of value to Escalation, even if it doesn’t have the same epic scope to it as the other content patches.  The Battlefield: Barrens quest, however, is being treated as a world event, which means that it’s quite likely to disappear at some point, so get it done while you can!  My recommendation to avoid burnout (400 total materials is a pretty steep order to grind out, even if it is only once a week) is to split it up over 4 days.  With no new batches of dailies or factions to grind to Exalted, the general theme seems to fit right in with Vol’jin and his Darkspear trolls: “Take it easy, mon.”

Help, I Am Drowning In The Iced Tea Of Sorrow

Standard

In what is clearly by now nothing short of a stunning turn of events, I’m depressed.  Severely depressed.  The kind of depressed where I’m honestly not so much functioning as I am “using my autopilot abilities to perform some semblance of functioning.”

Allie of Hyperbole and a Half, who happens to be an idol of mine, recently updated her blog for the first time in months with a beautifully-illustrated tale of her own struggles with depression that have kept her away from the clicky-clacky thing that makes words show up on the computer.  I enjoyed it as much as you can possibly enjoy reading about another human being’s suffering, and it was interesting how it manifested itself for her in a way that’s simultaneously the same and different than the show it’s currently putting on in the West End of my brain.  (The costuming sucks, but Catherine Zeta-Jones is doing great with her portrayal of Primary Depression Blob #2.)

Unlike Allie, I am feeling things besides the obvious overwhelming sorrow.  They’re there under this terrible numb-feeling that I guess is kind of like what she went through, except even if I’m only mildly aware of them to begin with they still pop up from time to time, just in these horribly superficial versions that I know lack the depth of relative normalcy.  I can giggle at an episode of 30 Rock and really mean that giggle, but there’s something plastic about it, some vital component of it that would say “hey, this is a legit emotion” that’s just not there.  It is the Uncanny Valley of feeling.

I am getting out of bed in the morning.  I am trying to play the I Win game but every victory seems hollow, even the one where I put something in the microwave and run to the bathroom to pee and then make it back before my food’s done, which up until this point has been one of my proudest achievements.  There is this voice, you see, that isn’t actually there, but likes to wait until I’m really high up there in Not Feeling Like Complete Shitville before kicking me in the ribcage and fist-pumping while it watches me crash back down into Blerghsburg.

I mean, I’m in California.  I am back in my home, a place that I have missed for a very long time.  But whenever I try to reflect on this to bring myself up out of the gloom, that voice pops up again:

“Yay!  I’m in beautiful Southern California!  I live less than ten minutes from the Blizzard campus!  I can walk down the street without having to worry about getting mugged!  Life is pretty awesome!”

Is it?  I mean, you still don’t have a job or anything.

“Well… yeah,  but I’m still applying to Blizz and to jobs in the meantime!  Look at all the shiny opportunities here!”

How many callbacks have you gotten?

“…None yet, but that’s okay, it’s going to take them time to sort through all the app–”

Open up your email inbox.  How many rejection letters are there?

“…Okay, like 12 or 13, but that’s just inspiration to do better next time!”

Ever thought that maybe they just don’t want you because you’re still the same weird kid you were all through school and nothing you do is worth anything?  I mean, if you had any talent at all, you’d have a job by now.

“I have talent!  I mean, I didn’t go to college, but…”

Yeah, think about how much easier it’d be for you to get in if you could go back to school to learn coding instead of trying to teach it to yourself.  Oh wait, you can’t because you can’t afford it and considering that you can’t even pay your cell phone bill anymore, you don’t have the time.  You had your chance and you fucked it up.  You can’t do shit.  You can’t even get Target to call you back.

“At least I’m not homeless, right?  My mom’s letting me stay with her till I get on my feet.”

Great job, you’re a grown-ass woman who’s burdening your family yet again because you can’t get your shit together.  You should have stayed in Florida.  At least you had friends there… well, people who pretended to like you, anyway.  Look, kid, the only reason anybody gives you the time of day is because they feel sorry for you.  They secretly think you made a stupid move coming back out here.  They know you can’t do it.  You know you can’t do it.  Fuckup.”

It’s usually at this point that I end up staring at myself in the mirror and coming to the realization that everyone would be better off without me.  It’s this burning desire not to take my own life, but to just throw some clean underwear in a bag and run away in the middle of the night without telling anyone where I’m going.  I feel like I’m never going to amount to anything.  I feel like I’m just one of those people who doesn’t belong anywhere, that there’s no place for me in this world or the next.  I feel like just giving up and fully embracing twenty-six years of utter failure at life by devoting myself to laying on the couch and watching Netflix until I eventually choke on my 10-cent ramen noodles and die alone, let The Fiance find some way better-looking chick with fewer problems than me, let my mother and stepfather have their house back, and watch anything that might prove that I ever existed in the first place fade into oblivion.  I was never here.  It’s better that way, isn’t it?  I keep trying to argue with myself that it’s just the voice of depression trying to drag me down again but I’m starting to wonder.

I’m at a crossroads.  I could go back onto the same medication that crippled me and just deal with the fact that the physical pain I’m still struggling with is going to get worse again.  Or I could keep pushing on through, numbly, hoping that something will eventually give and that after all of the suffering I’ve had to deal with in my life — there’s a reason I’ve got PTSD, you know, and it’s shit that even the writers for Law & Order: SVU wouldn’t touch on the grounds of it being “too messed up” — there’s going to be sunshine.  Not even pure sunshine because expecting everything to be perfect all the time is stupid, but at least mostly sunshine with scattered showers, where the good outweighs the crap for once.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I made this all into a blog entry.  I meant to just put up a standard disclaimer that I wasn’t feeling well and a review of patch 5.3 would be forthcoming, but it just turned into… I don’t even know what.  I guess I feel worse than I thought I did.  I can’t explain any of this stuff to the few people I do have in my life without them either getting frustrated/angry at me because they don’t understand what I’m dealing with or telling me that it’s all in my head (no shit, that’s kind of the primary location of mental illness) and that all I have to do is think positive or whatever and everything will magically be fine.  Even when I do have the opportunity to talk to other people I push everything to the backburner because holy shit, I’m the Bunny Overlord, I have a solemn duty to be random and quirky and funny and upbeat all the time, otherwise what good am I to anyone, right?

I think I’m going to have ice cream for dinner tonight.  I deserve it.

Congraturations, A Winner Is Ragnarok Online 2

Standard

A little less than a week ago, The Fiance drew my attention to Ragnarok Online 2.  Since I played Ragnarok Online back in my high school days on the EuphRO server, there was a momentary prickle of nostalgia-based interest, but that was quickly snuffed out by my desire to get my death knight to level 90.

“It’s free to play,” he pointed out.  With how amazingly my last experience with a free-to-play MMO went, this was not convincing me of anything.

“If you hit level 30 by June 1st, you get a special Founder title.”

Well, shit.

Despite how much fun I used to have with my friends crawling through 2D dungeons in the original Ragnarok, I honestly expected to play the sequel for about ten minutes before saying “meh” and going back to World of Warcraft.  We never got farther than level 10 in the first game, mostly because the terrible localization made understanding what the Hell we were supposed to be doing at any given time too hardcore of an adventure for a bunch of 15-year-olds.  I figured it’d be more of the same, endless grinding, right click to attack Porings until you vomit out of your eyeballs, blah blah blah.

Then I actually fired up the game, and my semi-long absence from blogging or doing much of anything has been because Ragnarok Online 2 is freaking amazing.  Or at least mostly amazing.

Ragnarok Online 2 launched their English-language version just on May 1st of this year, so it’s still pretty fresh out of beta, and with any MMO you’re likely to experience a few hiccups with the servers at the beginning.  I can’t speak as to server stability for the standalone client, since I chose to nab mine through Steam, but the first couple of days were riddled with connectivity issues that seemed to be exclusive to communication between Steam and the account service, Warp Portal.  The Ragnarok team, however, was quick to address these problems and has offered a couple of small freebie items from their cash shop to players to make up for the interruption, a move that’s especially awesome on their parts since players aren’t losing paid time from server outages.  From what I’ve seen of their community-facing team, I’m impressed.  I am slightly confused, though, as to why they’ve chosen to take the servers offline for regularly scheduled maintenance on Tuesday evenings, typically starting at 8pm and coming back up at midnight PST.  Blizzard also runs on Pacific time but handles server maintenance starting in the wee hours of the morning, when fewer players are likely to be on.  It just seems like a poor choice to me to shut players out during what could still be considered “peak” play hours.

(Admittedly, I keep referring to them as “servers” when there’s really only one server, Odin, broken down into 20 different channels which players can zone in and out of as long as they’re out of combat and not in a dungeon.  This comes in handy when trying to find a pick-up group for a dungeon or “elite” mob — I tend to do my regular questing in low-population channels so that I don’t have to worry about tons of competition for kills, but switch into the highest population channel to set up my personal shop and find groups.)

After the Scarlet Blade debaucle, it was really nice to go through a character creation process where the female characters were actually clothed, especially compared to what they typically end up wearing in fantasy games.  The worst I saw was a midriff top and short shorts that my character switches to when she’s crafting as a blacksmith, but since the game relies on an anime art style anyway, it didn’t seem out of place.  I’ve seen more offensive costuming in Sailor Moon.

45% more flesh coverage than the Sailor Starlights.

45% more flesh coverage than the Sailor Starlights.

The whole game is insanely cute.  Even the “dusky” areas use a fairly bright color palette, and the monsters all look like something the children of Sanrio executives would draw on their school notebooks after snorting Pixie Stix.  I think the handpainted environment textures might actually be better quality than the ones used in World of Warcraft — the ones in RO2 seem to lack the distortion and pixelation that can sometimes occur in WoW.  The music was also a pleasant surprise; it can tend towards “generic RPG” at some points, but there’s a few parts of the score that feature gorgeous vocalizations.  I haven’t turned off the background music since I started playing it.  And how cool is it that you can actually select your character’s voice?  For a free-to-play MMO, they’ve definitely poured a lot of love and effort into the graphics and sound.

But therein lies the catch, right?  The game costs nothing to download, and there’s no monthly fee, so the cash shop must be full of game-breaking armor and weaponry that means “gg” if you can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money on it.  Except that’s not the case at all.  The Kafra Item Shop is full of vanity items like appearance-only costumes and mounts, with a couple of consumable boost items that are nice, but won’t wreck your game experience if you choose not to buy them.  The broken English descriptions, however, mean that making a purchase requires some very careful reading.  Occasionally you’ll find what appears to be two entries for the same item, but closer examination reveals that one is a 30-day item and the other is permanent.  One very useful item I’ve noticed is a Card Album, which will store all of the equippable stat boost cards you find during your travels without taking up precious inventory space, but it costs $5 and only lasts for 30 days — still cheaper than paying for a monthly subscription, but I feel like the value for the non-permanent items isn’t really at that cost level.

Now, as far as the English is concerned…

This wasn't even the worst offender -- I actually had to close out of that one immediately to prevent my brain from exploding.

This wasn’t even the worst offender — I actually had to close out of that one immediately to prevent my brain from exploding.

The localization for RO2 is, to put it delicately, pretty bad, although a recent patch has introduced several fixes for the most noticeable mistakes, such as the now-ubiquitously quoted announcement of “Congraturations!”.  Many of the quest descriptions are useless when trying to figure out exactly where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do.  There’s a couple of quests that, on acceptance, drop a funny mallet into your bags that apparently you’re supposed to equip and use when killing the specified mobs… but the quest text doesn’t explain that part.  The mallet itself also does very little damage on its own and makes your typical attacks completely unusable, meaning you’re stuck auto-attacking and hoping that the mob’s health reaches 0 before yours does, which is occasionally impossible without relying on health potions in the meantime (side note: using a health potion turns off your auto-attack, something I didn’t notice right away the first time I got stomped into the ground).  When the terrible translations and missing information aren’t upsetting gameplay, they’re torpedoing the fairly decent lore that the Ragnarok series is based upon.  Character conversations that should advance the storyline in the player’s mind are instead stilted, confusing messes of generic statements that could be so much better with a few rewrites.  Coupled with the typical Korean game mechanics of “grind your face off,” it can make for a very dull experience at times.

There’s also the matter of certain NPC and city names not being kept consistent between the original Eastern release and its English-language counterpart.  Sometimes it’s just a letter or two apart, but several other times the names have been completely different, and only by making educated guesses and using the map to check for turn-ins can you guarantee that you’ll end up in the right place.  Some cultural differences have also not been accounted for — one of the first quests you’ll receive is to retrieve “wet crib sheets” for a fallen knight.  I’ve never heard anyone use the term “crib sheet” in this country to describe anything except what babies sleep on, but apparently it can also refer to schoolwork or notes on a certain subject.  Before I figured that out, however, I spent a couple of hours thinking that the knight got his ass kicked so hard that he wet the bed and that the game was calling him a baby for it.

A really neat feature I’ve managed to get addicted to is the way that RO2 handles titles and achievements, utilizing a system called “Khara”:

CLEAR ALL THE THINGS

Also known as “We hate people with OCD.”

Unlike most games, where titles are strictly for vanity and/or RP purposes, here there’s actually a method to the madness.  Each title, which can be earned by completing Khara missions, offers different stat boosts to give your characters an extra edge.  In addition to receiving titles, most Khara missions also reward players with Khara points that can be used to unlock special missions, chunks of job or character XP, and money.  Some require reaching a certain level either with your crafting profession or your character themselves, while others ask you to consume a certain number of potions or kill specific mobs.  Accepting quests will sometimes unlock access to more Khara missions, as will leveling regularly.  They are inexplicably divided into “Episodes,” which correspond with absolutely nothing in the game itself, and with so many available missions figuring out what’s open for completion at the time can sometimes be a daunting task.  I’d rather see them separated into tabs by zone or mission type.  There’s also mild annoyance when a Khara mission opens up that requires you to backtrack and kill 80 of a certain mob that you had to kill anyway earlier on in the same quest chain — some streamlining is needed here to reduce aggravation.

Some of these Khara missions can only be completed in dungeons, which in this game cause me to grind my teeth simply because completing them and the regular storyline quests for each one require multiple runs.  Rather than asking you to kill a boss just once, the game forces you to run each dungeon at least twice for completion, and given the generic nature of each boss encounter, that can be mind-numbing.  Every boss I’ve encountered thus far requires the same strategy: don’t stand in shit, and kill the adds that the boss spawns.  Recent dungeons in World of Warcraft have been at the butt of plenty of “don’t stand in fire” jokes when it comes to their strategies, but RO2 takes monotony to a whole new level with their encounters.  Waiting until max level (at this moment, 50) and coming back to wipe out lower-level dungeons isn’t a possibility, either, due to the damage output and defense levels of bosses being out of balance with the strength and fortitude gained by players.  I don’t feel more powerful when I level in RO2.  Stat gains are incremental at best, and as in the case of Vitality, worthless at their absolute worst.  Each point spent in Vitality only gains 6 HP, meaning that in order to make a real difference in your character’s health pool, you’d have to sacrifice placing points in any other stat, which just doesn’t work.  These mysterious “points” are only granted each time a player levels up, with the number rewarded and the number required for +1 to a stat increasing over time, meaning that opportunities to beef yourself up are limited to begin with.  Crafting the best possible gear for yourself and augmenting your stats with the appropriate title and equippable cards are absolutely necessary in order to offset the lackluster baseline improvements.

With allocatable stat points also comes the chance to learn new skills, which rely entirely on the old talent tree model that World of Warcraft used to offer before switching to their weird Everquest 2 trees.  Localization again becomes a problem, with awkward and unhelpful skill descriptions that are enough to boggle the mind.  I sometimes feel like I’d be better off just downloading the Korean-language client and using Google Translate to try and comprehend exactly what I’m reading.  For example, the Warrior ability, Bowling Bash:

Which, coincidentally, appears identical to three other skills in the same tree.

Which, coincidentally, appears identical to three other skills in the same tree.

Upon first reading the tooltip, it sounds to me that this ability works like a single-target Heroic Leap, when in fact it’s just another melee-range sword attack.  I wasted a skill point to find this out, and the only way to reset skill trees that I’ve been able to find so far requires making a cash purchase from the Kafra Item Shop, otherwise I’m stuck deleting the character and starting over from scratch.

At level 25, characters can change to one of two specialized classes that differ based on which class you chose to start the game with.  It reminds me of the Job system in Final Fantasy Tactics (although in RO2, “job” refers to “crafting profession”).  The problem is that there’s very few viable builds out there, and I’m not talking just for endgame — pick the wrong option, and you’re going to have a tough time just leveling by yourself.  My character started out as a Swordsman and transitioned into the Warrior class, which I assumed was the DPS build versus the Knight tank build, only to find that I’d gimped myself in a very big way by making this choice.  Instead of there being clearly defined roles for each specialization, it seems like there’s an Awesome Specialization and a Crap Specialization, and that’s about it.  I’ve verified this not only with my own playthrough, but also by talking to several more serious players in the game itself and reading through forum posts.  If your’e a WoW player and have ever tweeted Ghostcrawler with complaints about nerfs or insisting that your class needs a buff, come play RO2 for a few days.  You’ll be sending the man fruit baskets by the end.

Take whatever strength and survivability you can, though, because the respawn time for mobs is literally a matter of seconds.  Unlike World of Warcraft, which gives you a few seconds’ grace to run away from a mob that’s just popped on top of you before grabbing aggro, you’re fair game the second its model phases into the area.  Rather than mowing through pockets of mobs as you would in other games, it’s much safer to find one of the specific type of mob you need that’s far away from larger pockets and just spawn-camp the everliving crap out of it.  If you play a class without ranged abilities, such as Swordsman, you’re relegated to body pulls, which get dicey considering that mobs do enough damage versus your own damage output that using a health potion every 10 seconds is very nearly a requirement, and you’ll be stopping to regain health with regeneration foods every three to four kills in some places.  By the time you finish killing one mob, you’ve barely got enough time to loot it and run away to avoid aggroing a new spawn.  For this reason, questing can be a slow and nerve-wracking process.  The respawn rate doesn’t appear to be linked to how many players are in the area, since I’ve been the only one around on a low-population channel and still experienced the same near-instantaneous speed, unless it’s taking into account the number of players across all channels in that area rather than limiting itself to the active one.  It could also be the simple fact that most Asian MMOs tend to be more difficult than their Western counterparts; fans of that style of gameplay are undoubtedly pleased, but for the rest of us, it’d be nice to turn the dial down a bit from “holy shit” to “happy medium.”

In place of hearthstones for quick escapes to your home point, the Kafra Service NPCs located in most major quest hubs will allow you to select that city as your “Save Point,” accessible  every few minutes using a consumable Butterfly Wing, an item which they also will cheerfully sell to you for a nominal fee.  These same NPCs also offer personal bank storage which can be expanded with a real-money purchase from the Kafra Item Shop.  Transportation via flight point seems oddly expensive when compared to the rate at which Zeny (the RO2 version of gold) is earned, but upon further reflection, the ratio is no worse than World of Warcraft was back in the day of mounts at level 40.  Speaking of mounts, they’re available for purchase in the main city of Prontera at level 15 for 10 Zeny, which if my calculations are correct is equivalent to 100g in other games — rather than there being 100 rupees to 1 Zeny, it’s actually 1,000 rupees.  No special riding training is required, but there’s only one mount available, so without spending actual cash, there’s not much in the way of choice.  There’s also some sort of Food Bag sold by the mount vendor with a tooltip that claims it may make your mount faster, but I have yet to figure out how to use it to this end.

By this point, it probably sounds like Ragnarok Online 2 isn’t that great after all, but I can assure you that despite its flaws, the game has a lot of promise.  Just fixing up the localization errors and smoothing out some of the translations would make a huge difference in polish.  I commented to The Fiance that I wish they’d hire me, or Hell, even let me volunteer to sit down with all of the quest text, titles, and NPC names and bring them up to snuff, and I absolutely mean it — I see that much potential in the game.  I’d love to write a mod that fixes these problems, but I’m not sure that the built-in anti-hacking program would appreciate it enough to not permanently ban my account.  Thus far, I’ve been seeing daily updates and hotfixes to the game, meaning that their English-language team obviously has a great deal of dedication to and enthusiasm for their product, a feeling that’s definitely contagious after just a couple levels of play.  I stuck around for my Founder title, and to be honest, I don’t want to quit playing there like I expected I would.  It may not be a contender for World of Warcraft (at least not in the Western market), but it’s still enjoyable enough that I’m excited to keep playing on my Swordsman, and even to try out the other classes.

Especially if you’re a gamer on a budget, RO2 is well worth the download.  I’ve yet to experience another free MMO as well-crafted and fun to play as this, and I have serious questions as to if I ever will again.

Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?

Standard

One of my favorite parts of World of Warcraft is getting to celebrate the holidays in-game.  It’s a week or two of festive decorations, chances at special vanity items, and themed fluff quests to serve as a distraction from the regular grind.  There are Azerothian counterparts for the major American holidays — Hallow’s End for Halloween, Pilgrim’s Bounty for Thanksgiving — and even versions of holidays from around the world, such as Day of the Dead and Chinese New Year.  Children’s Week runs during the same timeframe as Children’s Day, a real-life Japanese holiday celebrated on May 5th.  The questlines are easy; just take an orphan around the world, receive a battle pet as a reward, win.  There’s no grinding of tokens or special dungeon bosses to take out, no purple gear or mounts to drive yourself nuts over.  With the advent of account-wide pets, having enough alts means you can theoretically get all of the available pets in one year.  It’s the only holiday to have an achievement that encourages you to come back year after year, which I managed to screw myself out of by deleting the character who had 2 out of 3 already because I am just that smart.

For Children’s Week, players are tasked with taking various orphans for a whirlwind tour of the world, buying them small tokens of affection, and playing with them.  It sounds tedious, but it’s actually pretty heartwarming.  The Dalaran orphan quests lead you to the Bronze Dragonshrine, where they encounter a future version of themselves who has ascended to great heights within their communities, a reminder to us all that even if you come from very humble beginnings or lives of hardship, you can still accomplish amazing things.  In Orgrimmar (or Stormwind, if you’re rebel scum), the questline ends with the purchase of a rack of foam swords for all of the children living in the orphanage, who excitedly run around with their new treasures proclaiming your excellence.  I’m still waiting to find out what’s up with the Shattrath orphans, though.  Apparently Zaladormu and the other Keepers of Time know something about their future deeds, but they’re keeping mum on the subject.

The problem is that unless you know where to go in the first place, or just happen to stumble upon the quests, you’re going to miss out on all of it.  There’s no breadcrumb quests leading you to the three orphanages.  I’ve been playing the game for eight years and only this year did I find out that there was an orphanage in Dalaran that offered its own questline, which saddens me because I can’t help but think of the designers whose work is being missed thanks to this oversight.  Nor is there any kind of decoration that shows up in the cities to let everyone know that yes, there is a holiday this week, which seems like a missed opportunity considering the event’s Japanese heritage and the introduction of craftable origami creatures for the Inscription profession.  Mists of Pandaria, while primarily pulling from Chinese mythology, also shows some elements of Japanese and Korean influence; using some of the decorative lanterns and kites already added to the game could make sprucing up the cities easy.

The addition of a Pandarian orphanage would also be great here, not just for sake of keeping up with the expansions, but also from a lore perspective.  How many Pandarian children have found themselves orphaned since the parting of the mists and the violent battles against the Sha?  Character models for these orphans would be easy, since Pandaren are a playable race for both Horde and Alliance.  The same could be used for both, or the difference could be as subtle as different colors of clothing.  There’s certainly tons of important landmarks in Pandaria itself that could be used in the questlines.  Here’s a quick and dirty example of what the chain could look like:

Children’s Week
Offered by: Matron Geum-Ja (and yes, that totally is a Sympathy for Lady Vengeance reference)
Objective: Use the Pandarian Orphan Whistle to summon your orphan.
Turn-in: Orphan

An Inky-Dink Operation
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to walk on the mystical waters of Inkgill Mere.
Turn-in: Orphan

Doin’ Fine At The Shrine
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective (Horde): Take your orphan to the Shrine of Two Moons.
Objective (Alliance): Take your orphan to the Shrine of Seven Stars.
Turn-in: Orphan

Just Tillin’
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to the market at Halfhill.
Turn-in: Orphan

I Wanna Go Fast
Prerequisite: “An Inky-Dink Operation,” “Doin’ Fine At The Shrine,” and “Just Tillin'” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Enter the Sky Race with your orphan.
Note: This is done like the “Ridin’ the Rocketway” quest in Azshara, where the player enters a cloud serpent vehicle with their orphan out and the two are taken on a scripted flight path around the racetrack.
Turn-in: Orphan

It’s Bugging Me…
Prerequisite: “An Inky-Dink Operation,” “Doin’ Fine At The Shrine,” and “Just Tillin'” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to meet the Klaxxi at Klaxxi’vess and buy them an Amber Figurine.
Note: Amber Figurine purchasable from Klaxxi Quartermaster only while this quest is active.
Turn-in: Orphan

Back To The Orphanage
Prerequisite: “I Wanna Go Fast” and “It’s Bugging Me” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Return to Matron Geum-Ja with your orphan.
Turn-in: Matron Geum-Ja

The reward for completing the entire quest chain, in keeping with the spirit of the other Children’s Week lines, would be a choice of battle pet:

Of course, the design team has their hands full right now with the upcoming 5.3 patch and future storyline patches to expand our Pandarian adventures, so it’s likely that deviating from those deadlines to update a once-a-year event with new content won’t be happening anytime soon.  That being said, I’ve got my fingers crossed that they take a moment to re-evaluate School of Hard Knocks, an achievement required for the For the Children meta-achievement which is, in turn, part of the significantly larger What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.

It seems like I’m not the only one out there bemoaning this achievement, either.  I somehow managed to get it completed back in 2009, but The Fiance is playing through the Children’s Week content for the very first time and I’m finally able to see what a colossal time-sink and pain in the ass it really is in its current incarnation.  It’s standard for the holiday meta-achievements to include at least one PvP achievement, which I think is only fair; after all, designers have to cater to both the PvP and PvE players out there as best as they can in order to keep either side from feeling neglected.  The problem is that the objectives for this particular achievement leave both camps out in the cold.

Let’s look at the PvPer’s plight: during Children’s Week, the required battlegrounds are inundated with inexperienced and undergeared players who are only in there to get their achievement.  The players who are there to earn honor and who are actually concerned with victories have to spend this entire week gritting their teeth and expecting a string of losses.  I was watching when The Fiance entered a battleground and was promptly kicked because he had his orphan out.  Simply put, the general attitude coming from the PvP group seems to be “we don’t want you here,” and I understand their frustration.  It’s the equivalent of trying to do a raid and having the other 24 members show up in greens without having read any boss strategies beforehand.  Does it excuse the insults and harassment being flung around?  No, not at all, but tensions are definitely running much higher than normal this week.

The Fiance is not a PvPer.  He had fun doing the easier battleground achievements in Winter’s Veil and Hallow’s End, but he isn’t interested in PvP otherwise.  He doesn’t have a PvP set or spec.  He plays on a PvE server because he wants to avoid PvP situations as much as possible.  Without basically being carried through each objective, he has zero chance of being able to complete the achievement.  Instead of making progress, he’s being called every nasty name in the book, singled out by the opposing faction, excluded from groups where he might have the opportunity to get the achievement out of the way… if Hard Knocks wasn’t required for the metas, he wouldn’t even “inconvenience” the PvPers by entering their battlegrounds to begin with.  But he has his sights set on the Violet Proto-Drake mount, so his only option is to either keep trying and failing, or giving up altogether.

School of Hard Knocks should not be removed from the requirements.  The holiday events already have a strong lean towards PvE, and just as there are many PvE players who would rather eat their own hand than enter a battleground, there’s plenty of PvPers for whom having to do regular quests or any kind of PvE content is a slow, agonizing death for their enjoyment of the game.  Including a PvP element for them is the best way to throw them a bone that doesn’t involve the addition of an entire alternate line of achievements that cater to their preferred play style — it’d be cool to have both PvE and PvP paths that lead to the same end, but would require a great deal of work to implement.  The trick here is to simplify the objective itself so that it is still enjoyable for PvPers, but not completely out of reach of those who choose to focus on PvE.  Currently, for completion, a player needs to summon his orphan and:

  • Capture the flag in Eye of the Storm
  • Assault a flag in Arathi Basin
  • Assault a tower in Alterac Valley
  • Return a fallen flag in Warsong Gulch

These are all highly-specific events that can quickly become impossible when you’re fighting against 29 other players to complete them.  There aren’t enough opportunities in a single 15 vs. 15 round of Eye of the Storm to capture the flag.  Some serious teamwork is required in order to make these happen, and while Blizzard as of late has been trying to encourage social play and working together within the game, it’s a lesson that’s just not sticking.  Whether it’s because we’re all jaded after eight years of play and have, in turn, caused even newer players to exhibit that same malaise when it comes to being considerate, or perhaps due to the lack of accountability for one’s attitude that seems to have tagged along with the implementation of cross-server groups, expecting an entire battleground to “play nice” has sadly become a mark of naivete.  Without being lucky enough to find a pre-made group specifically going for the achievement — I keep seeing this suggestion, but have yet to actually see it implemented — there’s just no way it’s going to happen.

If the objective were changed to something much more general, such as tasking the player with winning 10 battleground matches or getting 100 honor kills with their orphan present, there would still be an element of challenge and dedication required in order to complete the achievement, but it would be much more accessible for non-PvPers.  It would put it more in line with the difficulty level of G.N.E.R.D. Rage or With A Little Helper From My Friends, a welcome change from its current status as the hardest PvP achievement required for any of the holiday metas.  PvPers might even see some of their frustration alleviated as the focus shifts from completing specific tasks within the battleground itself and more towards playing to win, meaning that even those who usually are PvE-only will be putting their best foot forward to ensure victory.  Until these tweaks are made, however, I feel bad for The Fiance and all of the other players who will be kept from receiving their proto-drake this year because of this single achievement.

 

Children’s Week is pretty enjoyable in its current incarnation, but with even the most minor of changes could still be better.  Much like the orphans we’re asked to take care of, all it really needs is for someone to remember to come and visit it from time to time.