Disconnect Gift

Once upon a time, back in May 2005, I logged on my Paladin in World of Warcraft. I went to Silithus to grind Dust Stormers in the hopes of acquiring a few drops of Essence of Air for crafting. It was tedious business as I had to kill a lot of them for just a few measly drops of those, but that’s what I did back then and I actually enjoyed it.

But just as I started killing the umpteenth Dust Stormer, my World of Warcraft client froze. Oh no, I thought – it’s going to disconnect, and when I return, I bet the Dust Stormer finished the job. I was right. Disconnect, relog – and my Paladin was dead. Cursing and shouting commenced.

Being killed because of a disconnect was rare for me back then as it is today, as I usually make sure I have a stable computer and ditto internet connection. Not much I could do about it anyway, so I ran back, resurrected, and continued killing Dust Stormers. A few minutes later, something extraordinary happened; one of them dropped an epic item. This one, to be precise:

Jeweled Amulet of Cainwyn (WoW)

It doesn’t look like much today, but back in 2005 it was pretty good. It cheered me up and I instantly used it, but it also had me thinking. Was a GM looking over my shoulders, saw me disconnecting, felt sorry for me, then decided to make it up for me? Nah. Probably just a coincidence. Occam’s Razor and all that. I continued grinding and that was that.

6 Years Later

Fast forward to May 2011 – actually it was just yesterday. I logged on my Cleric in Rift. I went to Shimmersand to do some solo quests for XP, as I was only level 48 (still not quite there yet). Killed some basilisks around a pond and a few humans. I took another look in my quest log and saw that I needed to kill four Volcanic Flames, so I walked into the relevant canyon and spotted one.

Hm. It’s elite? Strange. Perhaps there’s a trick about finding a thing that will weaken them, so I didn’t think more of it and walked past a few of them. Then I took another close look at one of those fire elementals. It was indeed elite, but it didn’t look all that tough. Only about 11K health. I decided to give it a try and pulled it. It was a tough fight and I had to use a few potions, but I actually thought I was on top of it. I could have won it.

But then the game client froze. Oh no, I thought – it’s going to disconnect, and when I return, I bet the fire elemental finished the job. I was right. Disconnect, relog – and my Cleric was dead. Cursing and shouting commenced.

I thought this felt familiar, but never mind. I took a look in my quest log and only now I realized that the quest was for groups of three players. Bleh. I abandoned it and went back to the pond to kill some more basilisks and humans.

And then, just a few minutes later, this item dropped from an unimportant solo mob:

Gnawbone Staff (Rift)

Not only was it an item I could use for my class, it was also a pretty cool update. How convenient, wouldn’t you say? I’m not buying this anymore, developers. You have some kind of “Disconnect Gift” algorithm going on, don’t you? If someone is disconnected in the middle of a solo fight and dies, you activate a high chance of getting an epic item within the next few minutes. Just as some sort of apology and to make sure the player doesn’t do anything stupid like, say, rage quitting.

Actually, this could still all be a coincidence and I just got lucky both times and there really is no trick going on. But how about you? Have you ever had a suspiciously cool drop in an MMORPG shortly after a death due to e.g. a disconnect?

Fog of War

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I was reading the Bullroarer Release Notes for the upcoming Update 3 for LOTRO the other day, and one thing immediately caught my eye:

“Fog of War” on the world map no longer exists. You will now be able to see the world map in its entirety without having to visit every area.

I guess a lot of players would immediately find this to be a nice change. No more guessing, no more not knowing. It also fits with the latest trend of dumbing down our MMORPG bit by bit. But it actually saddened me, even if the “Fog of War” in LOTRO was only the crude version.

Fog of War (LOTRO)
A map in Lord of the Rings Online. Everything below Windfells is unknown.

Is “Fog of War” in MMORPG slowly becoming an endangered feature, soon to be extinct?

SWTOR: Worrying Preview

I was reading a new blog post by Tobold and found a link to a pretty disturbing preview of Star Wars: The Old Republic. This is a promising MMORPG developed by none other than BioWare; the creators of so many excellent single-player RPG. I loved the two Knights of the Old Republic games. Needless to say, I’ve had my keen eye on this MMORPG ever since it was announced.

And then this preview pops up with unsettling news about how the game actually plays. Here are some quotes from the preview that I took special notice of:

Our opinion of The Old Republic, formed over two solid days of playing, is that it’s one of the most boring titles we’ve ever had to endure. It’s plain and staid and deathly dull. It’s both exactly the same as every other MMO we’ve played, but at the same time so much worse because it promises so much more.

Okay. You’ve got my attention now. 😯

What would have normally take an hour or so in a standard RPG now takes an entire day of play. The local Jabba stand-in always has one more errand to offer you.

We found ourselves wading through an almost obscene amount of combat too, usually against the type of wild beasties and bandits that typify every RPG, ever – but in greater quantity and in an area which felt far smaller. In some cases we’d clear out an area, walk into the next room, turn back and face the exact same enemies we’d killed only moments before. Once or twice we even saw foes respawning over their own corpses as conversations distracted us – very, very anti-fun.

These two quotes had me worried a lot because this is one of many reasons I’m not having as much fun in Rift as I’d like to. Too many mobs all over the place, fast respawning, and frequent revisits back to the same area for just another solo boss to be killed. Looks like I’ll have more of that in SWTOR, whether I like it or not. Sigh.

There are many other interesting paragraphs about the game in this preview. If you’re just remotely interested in the game, I really recommend you read it.

Basing an opinion on just one preview is not wise, of course, and I’ll still have an eye on the game as it moves closer to release day. That the game is going to reuse a lot of common theme park rules – well, we already knew that. I was hoping that the story elements, the universe, and the developer’s experience would still add something unique and refreshing to the genre.

Come on, BioWare, old buddy, don’t let me down!

Rift: Forbidden Areas

A few days ago I was exploring the northern ridge of mountains in Droughtlands, partly looking for cairns and artifacts as usual, but also to see if I could peek into the forbidden gray area north of the zone. Needless to say, there were lots of invisible walls and of course an insurmountable final ridge. But much to my surprise, I did manage to get close enough to notice weird names pop up on the map of the forbidden Neverland. Actual roads? Real areas? Your guess is as good as mine.

Forbidden Areas
The names in top revealed themselves when I got real close.

What I’d really like to know is, why did the zone designers bother to add these names? Did they originally want to have more zones, but eventually had to cut back in order to reach a deadline? Or did they just start building a zone for an upcoming expansion (or patch) while having some sort of invisibility flag on, only to have someone like me discover a bug in the invisibility mode?

Maybe it’s caused by some sort of algorithm that dumps the names on the entire continent like salt and pepper. But does that really make sense in a world that has probably been handcrafted?

Perhaps they added them to see if blog posts like this would emerge, pondering their existence. 😉

Rift: A Game World

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I’m now level 41 and barely started in snowy Iron Pine Peak with lots of chilly winds coming out of my loudspeakers. Droughtlands and Moonshade Highlands are both behind me. Since most rifts are often conspicuously left alone on my shard, I decided to do quests in both of those equal level zones to avoid hitting orange quests. I also tried healing in a dungeon (King’s Breach) but soloing has occupied 99% of my time in the game.

The more I play, the more I have to say that Rift doesn’t rub me quite the right way. It’s indeed very slick, beautiful, it has an impressive range of features for such a young MMORPG, and the rifts are a lot of fun to do with many players. Soloing with quests drags the game down, however, and I’ve seen in reviews and on other blogs that the game generally gets a lot of criticism in this area. There’s something about the quests that feels like working in a factory. Here, have these five quests. Go to these yellow circles over there and complete them. Return and deliver. Get another five quests. Go to the yellow circles right next to where the other yellow circles were. Rinse and repeat.

Quest grinding is not a new thing and I’ve seen the like in other MMORPG too. It can be spiced up with more imaginative quests (Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm), intricate story lines like the book quests in LOTRO or just with enough variety to keep it interesting. In Rift, not only does it feel a little like a job, there’s also something about the game itself that feels shallow.

In both LOTRO and EQ2 I’ve been happy about the atmosphere because it actually feels like an interesting fantasy or alien world. Sometimes this can make all the difference. I played Morrowind for a long time after the quests were pretty much completed, merely exploring various caves just because the world felt so intriguing. In Rift, the world feels exactly like what it really is; a game world. Nothing more. When I’m climbing the mountains looking for artifacts, cairns and hidden puzzles, I’m not really walking on mountains. I’m walking on polygons and textures.

Rift: Level 30

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I finally dinged level 30 in Scarwood Reach, which is the zone following Scarlet Gorge. It seems I’ve fallen behind quests, as I’ve had to do a number of orange quests. I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong. There was a small batch of quests in Gloamwood which I skipped, but I went back and did them to make up for it. This did turn the quests yellow, but after a batch or two more, the quests were orange once again.

Orange quests, and thus orange enemies (i.e. 3-4 levels higher) is a big problem in Rift, at least for my Cleric even with heavy emphasis on the Inquisitor soul. Enemies up to yellow are easy enough to kill, but orange enemies resist a lot, take forever to kill, and hit hard. I met orange solo mobs in Scarwood Reach that could get me down to about 20% health before I managed to kill them.

Undying Myrmidons
Luckily these Undying Myrmidon were only of yellow difficulty.

That’s just not fun for a casual player like me, so I’ve decided that I need to go back and grind some footholds and invasions, maybe even try some dungeons. As mentioned in the previous post, rifts are mostly empty after Silverwood on my shard with its medium population. I was hoping it would catch up after Gloamwood, but it hasn’t been much better in Scarlet Gorge nor in Scarwood Reach.

Am I too fast and the public haven’t caught up? I don’t really think so. A lot of players in my guild are much higher level, and besides, I’ve actually not played all that intensively. An hour or two per day, perhaps. My guess is that people are concentrated on questing and dungeons while keeping rifts in the back of their mind as something they can always do later.

Rift: Gloamwood

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An interesting thing happened in Gloamwood, which perhaps I should have seen coming. Where rifts in the Silverwood (the starter zone) were zerged by players (which was great fun), practically no one is touching the rifts in Gloamwood at all, at least not on my shard (Quicksilver).

I’d like to do these rifts, but not on my own. This means that I have to settle with footholds (doable because the enemies rotating the wardstone are not linked when you tag them) and then there’s quests. This, together with the fact that Gloamwood looks a bit too dark and gloomy for my taste, means that the game is suddenly not as cool as it was to begin with.

Gloamwood

I fear that the rifts will only be zerged by players in Silverwood (the starter zone) and whatever the zone is for level cap (level 50) as more and more players reach it. This could probably even be shown as a graph with a big bump in the start and end of it, together with a “flat valley” in the middle. Since I don’t have the exact numbers, I’ll leave it up to someone else to draw it (fat chance).

Rift: Idea for Mounts

I too have been pretty annoyed by the fact that low-level mobs can one- or two-shot me off my 60% mount in Rift. I then read a few complaints at the official forum to see if this improves with faster mounts. Supposedly the 60% is deliberately fragile and the faster ones can take a beating. I’m not sure yet, however. Some claim it’s exactly the same (which is not acceptable) while others claim it does indeed get a lot better. Guess I’ll have to see myself when I get them.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking and I have an idea I actually think is pretty good if I may say so myself. One of the points of being pummeled and thrown off the mount is to make sure the players actually use the roads. Fair enough. Here is what I propose then:

All roads in the zones automatically give you a temporary buff when you enter one. The buff makes your mount a lot sturdier while riding on the road (it gets more “confident” because of the clear view of the road). While on the road, enemies will have a harder time throwing you off. As soon as you leave the road to ride through an enemy territory, the temporary buff is gone.

I also posted a suggestion thread at the official forums about this.