Random Update: What am I playing?

I’ve accidentally taken a fairly long break from gaming, whether you are talking about table top or computer games. The last thing I played with any kind of regularity was the Infinite Crisis MOBA, with Kaylee, over the summer. When that game’s cancellation was announced, it kind of took the wind out of my sails – both mine and Kaylee’s, to be honest.

It seems silly to mourn a game as relatively content-free as a MOBA, but Kaylee and I were really enjoying ourselves with it, and enjoying our time together. After that, the only thing we’ve been playing that I might sort of consider a game is Minecraft. Fun, especially once we got a home server set up, but very intermittent. (There was a point where basically everyone in the house was playing Minecraft, everyday, on one platform or another, but some of us lost our taste for the pocket edition when Sean accidentally deleted a few important world’s off our tablets.)

For all intents and purposes, we went through most of the summer without any gaming, with the exception of some Dungeon World.1

Ironically, the looming arrival of the new free to play model for Wildstar is what got me back to doing at least a little bit of online gaming, if not tabletop. I say ironically, because while Wildstar was what brought the idea back to my mind, that particular game remains barely playable for me, even weeks after the roll out of the new FTP platform. In other words, I would get in the mood to check out Wildstar, fail to be able to play, then log into something else. That went on long enough that I started getting excited about playing the other games, and still haven’t managed to actually get back to Wildstar.

So what have I been playing?

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I was very excited about this game when it first came out, and enjoyed it fairly well, but it never really clicked for Kate and I, and following the huge disappointment of Mass Effect 3, it was pretty easy to let this fellow Bioware-title fall off my radar a few months (maybe just one month) after it went live.

In the intervening time – almost 2 years – the game has switched to a free-to-play model and generally improved the play experience. It isn’t anything groundbreaking, and I’m not even sure it’s really Star Wars in the same way that something like Disney’s Rebels is, but lately I’ve been getting a yearning for a galaxy far away, and enjoying playing all these characters I haven’t seen in several years.

The game developers have done an especially good job at streamlining the leveling experience, to the point where you can essentially play only the storyline quests that are specifically related to your class, ignore everything else, and have no problem leveling through the content appropriately.2 This makes the entire leveling game a very repeatable experience, since all of the cutscenes and story are different for each class, even if you are going to the same planets and adventuring against the same backdrop. I certainly have no problem repeating content in BioWare games – I played through all of the Mass Effect series with six different characters and all of the Dragon Age series with 3 or 4 different characters – but basically having no repetition in the story in an MMO is pretty sweet.

Amusingly (for a Star Wars game), I really really don’t like playing most of the force users. The melee classes are a bit of a pain to play in any case, and to be perfectly honest Jedi with lightsabers don’t really feel like they’re hitting very hard, so the whole thing isn’t very satisfying. 3

By comparison, the mundane classes like Imperial Agent, Scoundrel, and especially Trooper and Bounty Hunter are tons of fun to play. Bounty Hunter/Trooper is definitely my favorite for game play, but I do have to give props to scoundrel for getting me to actually enjoy a stealth class, and Imperial Agent for a storyline that really makes me feel like I’m playing an MI:5-style espionage game. It is remarkably easy to work out backstory and motivations for all the characters I’m playing, which lends depth and interest to the (otherwise cosmetic) choices Bioware throws in my way.

EvE Online

I let my subscription to Eve lapse about 6 months ago (I really had no interest in doing any gaming while unemployed between permanent positions, which is a whole blog post in and of itself), and I haven’t really jumped back in with both feet yet, but I am playing a little bit and paying a bit more attention to the changes coming down the pipe between now and the end of the year.

The Secret World

TSW is always there for me, much like Lord of the Rings Online (I’ve got a lifetime subscription to both), though they scratch very different itches. I haven’t needed the LotRO itch scratched much, lately, but TSW’s conspiracy-laden world? That’s good stuff.

What am I not playing?

That’s really the big question, and the simple answer is I’m not playing any table-top or Hangouts/Roll20-based role playing games right now, which is a pretty big failing, as far as I’m concerned, since there’s so many I would like to be playing. My roll20 subscription is entirely up to date, and I really ought to be making use of it. More on that in another post.


  1. Great system, but the GM (me) had an obsession with using the Dragon Age setting that chilled player interest. 
  2. To use LotRO as an example: this would be like changing the XP rewards so that you could level up doing nothing but the “Book” quests and ignoring everything else, except that in The Old Republic, everyone classes “book” story is different. 
  3. The only exception to this is my Sith sorcerer, since she sits back and range and smites the entire landscape with lightning. 

Thankfully, She is Willing to Kiss a Wookie

I like to tell people that I met my wife on an MMO, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Technically, she and I both frequented a forum about an MMO that we both played, and she noticed that I’d quoted both Buffy and Gilmore Girls in a short bit of fluff fiction I’d posted, then commented on that fact and complimented my good taste. Unlike your typical cliche, that initial conversation didn’t inevitably bloom into some long-distance virtual romance; let’s say we were aware of each other and our mutual presence in the game. We didn’t exactly matriculate in the same circles, but the circles we did inhabit overlapped in Venn Diagram fashion, we sometimes found ourselves inside that overlapping elipsoid at the same time, and those moments of casual contact were, in my memory, always positive ones.

It wasn’t until we met face to face that the fireworks went off.

Still, she was in New York, I was in Denver, and while we were dating, it wasn’t as though we could see each other every weekend (though we certainly tried). During those two years, we supplemented phone calls and a downright irresponsible number of flights back and forth with ‘date nights’ together on that first MMO and, not that much later, Lord of the Rings Online; I playing the stoic bearded dwarf guardian and she with her elven orc-hunter. Good times.

Good times which we were happy to continue when we finally got married and she moved to Denver — it may not be that sexy-sounding, but we had a lot of good times and long laughs over stuff we were doing in LotRO.

Then came Sean.

Now, I’ve gone through gaming-with-a-baby before — I got Kaylee to drift off to sleep more times than I can count with the soothing white-noise pulse of my City of Heroes fire tank’s damage shield — but I won’t lie to you Marge: this time around, it hit our online gaming time hard. The stuff we typically did was a lot more involved in LotRO than my time had been in CoH, and there was basically no point in trying to play with only one hand free while you hold a bottle in the other. One of the reasons I’ve played EvE so much in the last year (I started an account a few weeks before Sean was born) was the simple fact that I could do almost everything in the game with just my mouse hand.

And forget raiding and other group activities — just forget it. If it’s just the two of us together, we can do some things, but forcing other folks to sit around and twiddle their thumbs because we have a sudden formula-related emergency? Neither of us were comfortable with that, and every time we tried to make it work, the whole evening left us more exhausted, frustrated, and stressed out than we had been when we started.

That sort of end result is usually not why a person plays a game.

So it has been a year, now, since Kate and I have really had any time to just… screw around on our computers, playing a game, together.

It sucks.

Enter Star Wars: the Old Republic, which we are — perhaps foolishly, perhaps optimistically — trying to play. Together.

In its favor is the fact that we both love the stories bound up in Bioware games like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, and SWTOR seems to have done a great job delivering that kind of experience in an MMO. Also, we have a fondness for the setting, which doesn’t hurt at all — even my daughter has managed to finagle herself a few characters to play when she has time. An unexpected plus is the fact that we hardly know anyone playing the game, so we don’t feel obliged to log on every night, keep up with everyone’s leveling pace, or join in on group content when it’s not very, very convenient to do so.

Working against it is the fact that at its heart, it’s an MMO just like any other, with some mechanical requirements (two hands free, preferably no screaming children in the background when you try to talk on voice chat) that still present challenges. It’s tough.

(Also working against it: Technical support that is nothing but pure, liquid excrement blasting in your face with the strength of a fire hose stream.)

But we shall see. It’s been over a month since we started playing, and so far our highest level characters are… level 12 out of a possible fifty. Kate has managed to actually run a few missions on the second planet: the SWTOR equivalent of talking to her first contact in Steel Canyon, or finally reached Bree. That’s not the best rate of progression in a month.

But at least we get to play together, sometimes, and that’s pretty good.

Star Wars: The Old Republic — The Question of PvP

A few days ago, Fogsong wrote:

Star Wars: The Old Republic. My LoTRO guild is debating whether to go with a Player vs Player (PvP) server or Player vs Environment (PvE) server. We are caught on the horns of dilemma – we want to be able to quest and experience the story but also [want to] have a strong and active PvP experience. We have gleaned everything we can about Warzones, Huttball, open world PvP on the various planets (Alderaan, Illum and vague mention of others). I don’t have any experience with MMO’s beyond LoTRO so I find it hard to decipher what everyone is talking about regarding PvP or why the pluses/minuses are important.

So – question – have you decided how you are going to start out with SWTOR (Faction, class and server type)? And if you have, would you be willing to share your thoughts?

Would I be willing to share my thoughts?

I think we all know the answer to that


George Lucas enjoys a number of hobbies, one of which involves methodically excising joy from my childhood memories, and another of which centers on the practice of claiming that Star Wars was always essentially a series of stories aimed at five-year-olds.

Which even an actual five-year-old will tell you is complete bullshit.

In New Hope, a ship is boarded, gunfire exchanged, and rebel soldiers are left stacked in the hallway like cordwood. Guys get strangled to death. The protagonist’s family is executed, their charred bodies left to claw at Tatooine’s pitiless sky. A genial old man lops off a guy’s arm for starting a bar fight. HAN SHOOTS FIRST. A princess gets tortured by a droid specifically designed for that express purpose. A planet with billions of people on it is blown up. A kind old grandpa figure gets cut down after he lowers his weapon.

And a space station with tens of thousands of people on it is blown up… by the good guy.

Yes, George: Nick Jr. should pick this shit up for adaptation immediately.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Star Wars is a pretty violent story that pivots on a fulcrum built entirely on conflict between the Empire (nee Sith) and Republic. In my opinion, any game based on Star Wars needs to reflect that reality and, for an MMO, that means putting a lot of thought into Player Versus Player conflicts.

I haven’t looked too hard at all the (hours of) press on this subject, but let’s take care of that right now and take look at what Star Wars: The Old Republic is offering.

First off, it looks like there are three server types:

Player-vs-Environment (PvE) servers can be considered representative of the standard play style and rule set. The focus on PvE servers is on experiencing the story and working with friends against the non-player enemies in the game world.

Player-vs-Player (PvP) servers have a slightly different rule set as PvE servers. On a PvP server, players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.

Role-Playing (RP) servers use the standard PvE rule set, but are identified as great places for players who enjoy acting out their characters in the game world to congregate and find other like-minded players.

My immediate reactions:

  • That’s really just two server types.
  • It’s a damn shame (and kind of a headscratcher) why they didn’t make any PvP RP servers.

Okay, beyond that, I’ll say that this breakdown looks a lot like the way WoW does it (no surprise there: BioWare modeled a lot of WoW’s successful structures) — the PvE servers are going to restrict their PvP options to instanced mini-games (more on those in a minute) and (I would guess) 1 on 1 duels.

Conversely, the PvP servers will allow ‘open world’ PvP to occur, in addition to the instanced mini-games. The way they word the description is interesting: “players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.”  I can’t really find anything that definitively states what “more areas” means — some folks who really hate open-world PvP predict you’ll get ganked anywhere outside of the starting areas. Other folks seem to think that it’ll be “non-civilized” places. No one official has actually said, as near as I can tell, but I imagine it’ll be a lot like WoW: open PvP outside of the starter zones, with certain areas (Coruscant, most bars) made safe(r) by patrolling them with many dangerous NPC guards who shoot any rabble-rousers if they start trouble.

What do I think?
Well, let’s compare this set up to some of the games I’ve played, from least to most PvP-centric.

  • Wizard 101 only has arena duels, accessible from a single static location. The duels have no effect on the storyline in the game as a whole, and there is no threat of PvP anywhere in the actual game world. Winner: Star Wars. (Though the duels can be entertaining.)
  • City of Heroes has really pathetic arenas accessible in a few static locations and some interesting but cut-off zones that allow PvP, neither of which allow you to influence anything that’s going on anywhere else in the game world. Advantage: Star Wars. Barely.
  • WoW does basically what Star Wars does, so call it a wash… except WoW has RP-PvP servers for the guys who want to monologue when they turn you into a sheep.
  • Lord of the Rings Online allows impromptu 1 on 1 duels, and has a PvP-only zone where you fight players running “Monster” characters (orcs, shamans, wargs, giant spiders, et cetera). Successfully holding these lands gives the entire server’s “Hero” player population XP and damage boosts, or gives the monsters boosts if the Ettenmoors are held by Sauron’s forces, so while you’re not affecting the overall storyline, you are affecting the whole “world”. Advantage? I’m going with LotRO in regards to the way it lets you affect the world, but with Star Wars for making the PvP more accessible with the minigames.
  • EVE Online lets you attack people pretty much wherever you like, provided you’re prepared to deal with the consequences. PvP has huge impact on the game world both at micro- and macro-levels;  you can literally take another guy’s stuff away, permanently, or in fact take hundreds if not thousands of guys’ stuff away. IF (and that’s a big if) you’re into that, there is no comparable experience in MMOs: it makes your losses sting more and makes the stuff you manage to hold onto that much more precious. Near death experiences have that affect. Advantage: EVE, provided it’s not something you’d flat out hate.

What am I Doing?
Like Fogsong, I’m going where my LotRO kinship is going. In this case, that means that the players I know will be playing their Republic characters on a PvE RP server, and their Empire characters on a PvP server. I look forward to experiencing the differences first-hand.

Wait… What about those mini-games?

Right! What about them? What’s going on there?

War Zones
War Zones are specifically tailored for team versus team combat, and players will experience fierce battles between the Republic and Empire, evoking memories of the famous Star Wars ground conflicts. This week we announced that the first War Zone will be located in the majestic mountains of Alderaan. Players will join their allegiance’s fight for control of several important areas. Over time we’ll reveal more information about the Player versus Player experiences in The Old Republic.

Basically, that sounds like fun: sort of WoW’s Arathi Basin with controllable turrets; instances you can sign up for, get queued into, and then fight. The major pros are that it is quite convenient and keeps matches even.  The cons are that it’s basically a mini-game with (outside the ability to earn gear that’s good for PvP) no influence on the outside world. I want my victories (and losses) on Alderaan to resonate through the rest of the world – to have some kind of impact. Maybe that’s EVE spoiling me a bit, but it is what it is.

On the face of it, though, the Alderaan battlezone seems like fun and (unlike the capture-the-flag, Bloodbowl-with-lightsabers joke that is the Huttball “war zone”) is something I could see my guys participating in from a roleplay point of view.

(Seriously, though: why the hell would a jedi ever sign up to play Huttball? Anyway…)

I’ve also heard good things about one of the other war zones, and rumors of a ship combat one, which both makes me happy (ship fights in Star Wars!) and sad (how ephemeral must the premise be if you can just “hit space and respawn” when you get your whole frakking ship blown up?)

All in all, I think the warzones will add some fun stuff to do in the game — it’s nice to queue up for 20 minutes of quick violence whenever you want. With that said, I would like the PvP to have more bite than it does in most WoW regions (which is SW:TOR’s strongest model): at the very least, I’d like to see something like what LotRO does with the Ettenmoors, where you affect the ‘outside’ world when your side is winning; but my pie-in-the-sky dream on a PvP server would be able to take over “control points” on a given planet (or in a given system) and seriously bottleneck access for the opposite faction (see: the control points in LotRO’s Annuminas area).

What Are You Going to Be Playing?
In traditional MMOs, I tend to make a tank first, then ranged DPS, then support. On the Republic side, that looks like a Trooper, a Jedi Consular, and probably a Smuggler or Scoundrel or whatever they’re called. I’m not 100% sure what I’ll do on the Empire side, but since it’ll be on a PvP server, I suspect an Imperial Agent will be my first option (so I have stealth options for getting around the world), a bounty hunter, and one of the melee sith guys if I decide I hate myself that much.

But I reserve the right to change my mind based on which classes get the coolest companions, because this is a BioWare game, and ultimately that’s the part I’m really going to be into.