Rant ahead: MMO leveling speed

I don’t do too much ranting on this blog. I’m usually a mediator, the voice of reason between two divergent opinions. I’m going to rant today, though, with one caveat. This isn’t directed at anyone in particular. It’s a complaint I’ve heard in various places (mostly through my RSS feed), and I couldn’t point to one specific post or person that I’m ranting about.

My rant is about leveling speed in WAR. After two months of the game being live, I’ve leveled an Archmage to level 30, a Shadow Warrior to 18, and a Witch Hunter to 14. If I spent all my time on the Archmage, I’d probably be 35+.

How the hell can you say that leveling is slow in WAR? How long should it take to hit a level cap? Do we really need to hit MMO level caps in two months or less for the leveling speed to be acceptable? If that’s true, is it time to just get rid of levels entirely, and make your advancement and achievement skill-based somehow?

In no other MMO that I’ve ever played have I reached 75% of the level cap two months after release, and I’m playing WAR much more casually than I ever played EQ, DAoC, SWG, or WoW. I level in WAR accidentally, rarely glancing at my experience bar. When I do notice the xp bar, I’m usually surprised how much I’ve gained. I don’t just grind scenarios, either. My archmage has done a lot of PvE content in the last couple levels, and a lot of open RvR. There’s never been a time where I think “Jesus, this is going to take forever.” In fact, I’m pretty damn surprised how little time it’s going to take me to hit 40 with the archmage.

I’ve got three ways to advance my character, and I enjoy all of them wholeheartedly. If the zone is buzzing about open RvR, I can get involved and my character advances while I’m having fun. If I feel the need for organized RvR more immediately than oRvR is providing, I can hit scenarios (my sympathies to those who weren’t on servers with scenarios popping regularly, that’s a valid response to my rant…but that’s still only one way to level). If I’m in a PvE state of mind, I can knock out quests, or organize a Public Quest group.

Almost everything you do in WAR gives you experience. If you sit back and enjoy what you’re doing, you’re going to advance without having to watch your experience bar like a hawk. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then it’s not WAR’s leveling curve that’s at fault. You have every right not to enjoy the tasks you’re doing to advance, and there are plenty of valid reasons why you might not be able to advance doing what you enjoy (can’t find PvE or PQ groups due to low population, or population dispersed through too many pairings and tiers, scenarios aren’t popping regularly, not enough oRvR action), but when those things are working, leveling is easy.

I think it would be a mistake to increase leveling speed. Instead of making leveling faster, I think Mythic is smart to try and merge server populations and provide a critical mass of players for PvE, scenarios, and oRvR. That way, no matter how you choose to play on a given evening, you’ll be able to find players and make progress toward the level cap.

We’re not there yet, not for every server. But we’re only two months in, and I suspect leveling will seem much easier in a couple months when server populations have stabilized.

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Darren’s right, but I still don’t want to play WoW

Over at The Common Sense Gamer, Darren is talking about being pleasantly surprised by the WoW expansion, enjoying the finely-crafted brilliance of a Blizzard game.

I expected to hear reports like this from people who went to play WoW. Blizzard has given me no reason to doubt that they can produce excellent expansions for a game that I enjoyed for many years. However, hearing Darren talk about what he’s enjoying also reinforces my feeling that I’m done playing World of Warcraft, at least for this expansion.

Since this is a blog, this post is purely personal opinion, and sums up where I’m at with MMO’s after 9 and a half years of playing them, pretty much continuously. EQ, DAoC, SWG, WoW, and Eve have taken up most of my gaming entertainment since EQ’s launch in March of ’99, as well as brief forays into many of the other major MMO titles.

When I hear people complain about PvE in Warhammer, I do understand where they’re coming from. Having people disappear into instances removed some of the liveliness from PvE, I think. A lot of the time, without organizing groups within your guild, or talking up groups in Region chat, you’re left soloing your way through PvE content. For me, though, moving to WoW wouldn’t be any kind of fix for that situation. In fact, WoW would be like doing PvE in WAR, while subtracting the opportunity to participate in oRvR or Scenarios. WoW is a straight grind. Do quests, upgrade gear, do more quests, upgrade gear, only to top out at the level cap with nothing left to do but raid.

Here’s the rub, and probably where I differ from people who really enjoy WoW PvE. I don’t enjoy PvE raiding. It’s dead boring for me. I get impatient moving at group speed, instead of solo speed. I don’t care a lot about gear upgrades from dungeon crawls, because the gear doesn’t get me anything except the ability to do more dungeon crawls. All that time grinding, collecting, upgrading, rinsing and repeating, and I feel like I’m dressed up for a party that’s never going to occur. There’s a predictability to PvE raiding that makes me feel like I’m working.

I don’t mind PvE soloing, though. It’s pretty much how I’ve leveled in every MMO I’ve played (WAR being a very pleasant exception), and for me, there’s little difference between WAR solo PvE and WoW solo PvE. Well, beyond the fact that I did WoW solo PvE for three years, and I really don’t want to do any more. If I’m going to do solo PvE, I’d rather be doing it in Warhammer.

There are a couple reasons I’m content with solo PvE in WAR right now.

First, there’s a point to gaining levels; I get to compete against other players in ever-larger RvR tiers (note: if I enjoyed PvE raiding, there’d be a point to grinding PvE in WoW…but I don’t).

Second, if I don’t feel like PvE grinding in WAR, I can do scenarios or Open RvR. When I decide to do some WAR PvE, it’s because I want to do it, and I’m choosing it from one of three fun options for advancement. I don’t have that choice in WoW. It’s either solo PvE, or group PvE, and I’m tired of not having options.

Third, I’m actually taking my time, reading the stories in the quests, and having fun getting to know a bit about the Warhammer universe. Azeroth feels stale to me. That’s purely personal, and probably has as much to do with my WoW PvE burnout as it has to do with the worlds Blizzard produces. I’m not trying to say that the WAR universe is any better than WoW; WAR is just fresher for me at this point in time.

I’m posting this because I don’t think I’m alone. My blog has been pretty quiet since WAR released, mostly because I’m spending most of my free time enjoying the game Mythic created. It seems like most of the blogs I’m reading are talking about what’s wrong with WAR. I wanted to post what I’m enjoying, in case there’s a silent majority out there who’s also content with WAR PvE (alongside scenarios and oRvR), and doesn’t plan on leaving Warhammer and returning to old familiar grinds.

I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. You don’t have to like WAR PvE just because I do. I don’t have to convince you that WoW is dull and uninteresting, because I don’t believe that’s true for everyone. It’s true for me, but who the hell cares what I think? 🙂 If you still get a blast out of playing WoW, I can remember back to my glory days and appreciate what you’re enjoying. That’s a chapter in my past, though. WAR is my present and my future, and I’m having a damn good time.

WAR: Love being top of my tier :)

I’ve been playing a Witch Hunter the last couple days, and I hit levels 10 and 11 tonight. I ran scenarios and ran around the Empire open RvR Tier 1 area for a couple of hours, and I can’t remember when I’ve had this much fun playing a video game. It’s gotta go all the way back to DAoC, or early Quake days online.

First of all, there’s the revenge factor. My archmage gets ruined by coordinated Witch Elf attacks all the time. They’re the bane of my existence, and I spent most of tonight getting my revenge. Shaman, DoK, Sorcs, Zealots…give me anything squishy!

I did die a lot during a stretch of scenarios runs where Order didn’t have ANY healers in either scenario group, but we still managed to win quite a few of those. I don’t mind dying; if I can occupy the back rank healers and casters long enough for our groups to make a push on an objective, then my death wasn’t in vain.

Once we got some healers, though, holy cow, I haven’t had a successful run like that in a game in a long, long time.

In one Nordenwatch match, with good healing behind me, I got 18 killing blows and did over 20k damage. It felt like “300” there for a little bit, sword flashing, pistol blasting, Destruction players dropping like flies. That kind of success is only possible with good healing and teammates who focus fire, and we were ripping through opponents like they were paper. I’ve been on the other side of that train plenty of times, and it was awesome to be on the winning side in most matches tonight.

I was also undefeated running solo throught the Empire open RvR area. I took out two Marauders, individuall, both who initially tried to run from me. Bad idea when I can snare you with pistol shots 🙂 It’s also helping me build up my Morale ability while you’re trying to run and losing health.

I also came up on 3 sorcs and a Marauder who were trying to take the Nordland Docks. I had a quest to scout the BO, and I initially thought I was out of luck. The four Destro characters were pulling NPC’s one at a time, and they were much lower level than me…I was 11, the sorcs were 6, 6, and 8. I didn’t notice the Marauder’s level, because I didn’t think I’d make it to trying to kill him. Since the sorcs were low, though, I thought maybe I could take one out before they noticed me and focused-fired me down.

I popped into stealth, positioned myself, waited until they pulled another NPC, and I attacked one of the level 6’s. He went down fast, and I jumped the other level 6. They noticed me, and my health was dropping, but they pursued me right into an approaching NPC patrol 🙂 I finished off the second sorc while the NPC’s ripped up the other sorc and the Marauder. Woot! Single-handedly defended the BO! Well, with the help of a patrol, but hey, they would have died without me!

I’m definitely enjoying this while it lasts. I know what’s waiting for me at level 12 in Tier 2 🙂 I think that’s when it’ll be time to hop back on the archmage and push him to 30.

I’ve seen lots of posts lately about what WAR lacks, and people are leaving, bored, returning to WoW, etc., but damn, what WAR does right, it does better than any MMO ever. Tonight was the most fun I’ve had in a game in years.

WAR: The view from Hibernia

My post from yesterday, The Push to Tier 4, generated this quote from Heartless:

Averheim has the problem of having a heavily imbalanced hardcore crowd where Destruction has the majority of level 40’s already and for 10 levels they get to make Order’s life hell… forcing most of us Averheim Order level 30-39 to solo PvE if we expect to get to 40.

I’m not quite in Tier 4 yet, but this is a disturbing statement. Now, I know it’s made by Heartless, so I’ll take it with a grain of salt (*grins at Heartless*), but it’s worth thinking about.

Last night on Averheim, some of the Casualties of War were in Praag, engaging in Tier 4 Open RvR. From what I understood from guild chat, there was an Order warband, and three or four or more Destruction warbands. Order would make a push, Order would get spanked, they’d respawn and try it again, with a similar result. Some of the CoWs sounded dispirited, and I think that speaks to what Heartless fears.

Back in the day, when I was a member of the Hibernian realm on Percival, we were the whipping boys of the server for a very long time. There were great individual players, excellent 8-man static groups, and a solid community of good people. However, as a realm, we got our asses kicked on a regular basis. Emain was the Midgard playground, and they beat us up at the milegates until they pushed into our frontier and grabbed our keeps. We didn’t see relics for a long time.

Here’s where Mythic needs to make a mysterious “something” happen in WAR. Despite the fact that RvR was often a difficult proposition for Hibernia, it was enough fun that we kept coming out to fight, night after night. We had good leaders who pushed into Midgard and Albion territory, we tried to play the role of spoilers in the three-realm matchups, and after months of losing, we learned a lot of lessons. We learned how to fight together as a realm. We learned that the game was a ton of fun, even if we were losing. And we learned that sometimes the people you die with are more important than the objectives you manage to capture. Eventually, Hibernia emerged as a serious power player on Percival, and I was around long enough to enjoy successful relic raids, frontier dominance, and a community of people hardened by defeat long enough to band together for victory.

As I read Heartless’s comment, and as I heard the groans from guild chat as Destruction was washing over our little warband in Tier 4 last night, I wondered if WAR is going to have that “something” that keeps Order out on the battlefield. Will we manage to come together as a realm, and will that spirit allow us to continue to face what might be an uphill climb through Tier 4 (if Heartless is correct, that is, and if the sky really is falling)? Will there be enough incentives in WAR to keep Order focused and working together?

I say that Mythic needs to provide a mysterious “something”, because there are two major components in DAoC that WAR lacks. The first factor, taking the most keeps, even if it ended up being at the end of the night when the Midgard or Albion bullies had gone to bed, opened up Darkness Falls for our realm. The second factor, since I just mentioned Albion, was the three-realm mechanic. We knew that it wasn’t just Hibernia against Midgard, or Hibernia against Albion. Each evening, there was the possibility of a third faction destroying the horde that was invading your keeps in your own frontier and providing some rock-paper-scissors balance to RvR.

I talked about both of those DAoC features quite a bit during my beta days, when we were just talking theoretically about the WAR mechanics. I think both of those factors were keys in the success of DAoC’s RvR, and I’m not sure yet what WAR offers.

Keen did a great job covering the Darkness Falls idea the other day, and Syncaine mentions the three-realm factor in the comments of that thread. It’s a good discussion. It will be interesting to see if Mythic manages to keep everyone motivated through Tier 4 and at the end game. Without a compelling reason to venture out to RvR, and without a third realm to offset the dominance of one faction over another, I’d be concerned that Open RvR will feel like an exercise in frustration if one faction is much stronger than another.

I’m just a blogger, babbling my way through work and life, and I’m sure Mythic has thought of this, and I hope they have a plan for it. I do have faith that Mythic thinks they have the motivations for RvR in place, and has ideas how to balance a two-realm game mechanic. I also have faith that if those design elements don’t prove sufficient to address motivation and a sense of hope, Mythic will make adjustments.

However, it’s not 2001 any more. There’s a lot more competition in the MMO market, and Mythic has to get it right sooner rather than later if they’re going to keep anywhere near a million subscribers. It’s going to be fun to watch! I don’t have any particular predictions, but I will enjoy watching how things unfold over the next couple of months.

WAR: The Push to Tier 4

My main hit 28 last night, which means…something…when it comes to participating in Tier 4. Somebody help me out here, I can’t remember exactly what the benefit of level 28 is. Does it make you eligible for the Tier 4 buff bump? Do you get a smaller bump in health and armor if you’re < 28?

Anyway, as I get closer to Tier 4, I’m starting to think that this will be the defining range for my final opinions about Warhammer. As I’ve fought through Tiers 1-3, running lots of scenarios, finding occassional good open RvR, and struggling like many other people to find a critical mass of players in PvE to group with, I’ve wondered if making a decision about WAR’s success or failure based on my Tier 1-3 experiences would be premature. I think, for me, that’s going to be true.

Back in the DAoC days, there were no early battlegrounds. You had to either keep up with the leveling curve to participate in RvR on an equal footing, or you had to accept the fact that you had to level in PvE to catch up. You were at a significant disadvantage trying to RvR at level 40 if the leveling Bell curve was closer to 50.

Mythic changed that eventually, adding battlegrounds for lower players, based on level ranges, but that wasn’t available at the beginning of the game. I think Mythic did a great job fixing the RvR participation problem in WAR, but I suspect by the time I’m well into T4, Tiers 1-3 are going to look a lot like the DAoC lower level battlegrounds. It’s a fun place to do something other than just grind PvE, but it’s not equal to the endgame RvR experience, either.

I think T4 is going to define Warhammer, because it takes some commitment to get there. By the time you start to participate in T4, you’re going to be playing with people who have decided that WAR is the game for them, and they’ll likely be around for a while. It’ll be easier to find a group of people to run around with on your side, and you can bet that your opponents will be skilled and equally dedicated.

I’m not trying to tell everyone that they should play to Tier 4 before they decide whether WAR is a good game or not. If you tried it and didn’t like it, there are a variety of valid reasons for reaching that conclusion. Maybe you hated the empty feeling of PQ’s and struggled to find Open Groups. Maybe you got tired of Scenarios being the best way to advance, or felt like you couldn’t find enough Open RvR action. Maybe there was a server imbalance, and you couldn’t get scenarios to pop even if you wanted to run them a lot. It could be a lack of depth in crafting, too much running between flight points in PvE zones…the list goes on. While I think Mythic made improvements in the Tier 1 to Tier 3 adventure compared to what we experienced in DAoC, I can totally accept that there are gamers who don’t want to invest the time to get to Tier 4.

That said, I think those of us who do reach Tier 4 are going to find a pretty wicked game, and gameplay that’s still unique in the MMO genre. I’m looking forward to the Tier 4 push to level 40, to enjoy the game with the rest of the players who enjoy what WAR has to offer. Looking back, I think Tiers 1-3 are going to look like baby steps toward Tier 4, and I think Tier 4 is going to be one hell of a good time 🙂

WAR Story

My Archmage dinged 28 on Averheim last night. I’m still fairly balanced between scenarios and PvE leveling, although I have begun to encounter the dreaded empty PQ phenomenon as I’ve moved out of Avelorn and into Saphery.

I really enjoy Scenarios, though, and they usually pop fast enough that I just use PvE leveling to gather crafting components and to crank out quests between scenario pops. Friday and Saturday were both good nights, with a good variety of scenarios popping in T3.

I don’t think I’m a great healer. I do a decent job of getting my healing numbers near the top of the charts in the Scenario summaries (by healing scenario team members who need it, not by dropping HoTs nonstop on everyone in sight), but I put myself at risk too often, die too often, and that hurts the scenario team. I’m trying to be more conservative, hanging back a bit, giving my teammates a chance to keep me alive when I get assist-trained by tanks or DPS classes, but I have a lot to learn still.

All of my counter-tactics for surviving Witch Elf ambushes came in really handy Saturday night in Tor Anroc. I had been killed up near the top of the volcano and respawned alone. Instead of waiting for teammates to respawn, I rushed back to the action, trying to get some healing power back in the equation.

Unfortunately, as I jumped off the ledge from the spawn cave, a Black Orc and Witch Elf were hiding around the corner and ambused me. I knew my chances of surviving were pretty thin, but I ran forward anyway, hoping to run into retreating teammates so they could assist me.

I’m getting faster on the “Holy shit, it’s a Witch Elf uncloaking right behind me!!” drill. Detaunt WE if possible, shield myself, HoT, potion, run. Keep re-hotting as I run, and hope I don’t die before I get help. It wasn’t working this time, though…as I passed the big rockand turned onto the path between the two lava lakes heading for the top of the volcano, the orc and WE had me slowed and were chipping away at my health.

There were no teammates in sight, and I knew I wouldn’t survive long enough to to make it to the volcano. I only had one chance left. I turned, tried to line up the onrushing opponents, and used my Knockback. Perfection! I caught them both in my blast radius, and they were launched far into the lava. I healed up and waited long enough to confirm both were cooked by the lava, and I ran back to my group, cackling the entire way. It’s pretty rare that I survive getting jumped by a WE without help, let alone a WE and a teammate. A WE plus a teammate usually results in a very fast, very bloody death. Score one for the squishy Archmage!

It was immensely satisfying.

WAR PvE – One more thought

Why doesn’t zone control matter more? Why don’t I notice zone control as a game element? I mean, I know when Altdorf is threated, but what I don’t really know is how Tier 1, 2, and 3 zones contribute toward that happening.

I mean, I know on a theoretical level that it affects the game somehow, but practically, I don’t think it really matters one damn bit, does it?

My question relates to PvE in the title because I think Public Quests and regular PvE questing contribute somehow to zone control, don’t they?

Mythic really seems to have missed making the connnection between zone control and PvE content. Even the RvR contributions are mysterious to me. I don’t know how many Scenarios are being run, and I don’t know who’s winning more often. All I can see is the Open RvR objectives and keeps.

Is it ever going to matter who controls the most zones? Are we really going to feel it if Altdorf or the Inevitable City are conquered? Is each faction going to care about conquering the opposing capital city in the same way DAoC players cared about controlling the most keeps, so we could open the Darkness Falls dungeon for our realm?

Would it make a difference, at lower tiers, if the faction in control of the zone had big PvE bonuses? Experience, money, etc.? Would it make a difference if contributions through PvE had a larger effect on zone control than Scenarios? Would people begin to realize that putting together one well-balanced group was an excellent way to reap really excellent gear rewards?

It seems there are plenty of people stating that they’re unhappy with the lack of PvE companions. What would it take to get those players together? They’re taking time to post on forums and blogs; why aren’t they taking that time to seek out other players who are wishing they could join up to complete PQ’s or bigger quests? I’ve been in a group that ran PQ’s all night, and the gear rewards are pretty decent. If you’re well-geared, you can get nice crafting items, or just take the cash. Running PQ’s are profitable; what’s keeping the non-Scenario fans from getting together? And it’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know what would help people organize beyond what’s already available.

I think after the rush of Open Group availability in the first couple weeks, in crowded zones, that people have lost a bit of faith in the tool. If they check Open Groups and see nothing available, they don’t start a group, advertise it in Region chat, ask in Guild chat, ask in Order chat, etc., if anyone is interested in getting together for an evening of PQ mayhem.

But there’s something more than that. One thing I loved about Dark Age RvR was that the effects of taking or losing keeps was readily apparent. Your relics were at risk, you gained entry to Darkness Falls, your guild got PvE experience bonuses for fighting in the area around a keep you had claimed. I know that I felt pretty invested in how the war was going in DAoC.

It doesn’t appear that zone control matters as much in WAR, at least if you judge it by how much people talk about it. If Altdorf isn’t threatened, I don’t hear anything about zone control, at least in T2 and T3 areas. Is there some way to make zone control matter, and use that to encourage people to participate in PvE as much as they’re currently involved in running scenarios?