In Praise of Dominion Housing

This

This “Cozy” Cassian House is huge!

You all know I’m an Exile at heart. I mean if you can’t be a space zombie, are you really living? Not that being a space zombie is exactly living in the technical sense, but you know what I mean. Anyway even though I’m a loyal Mordesh I do have a Dominion alt. I want to see how the story differs on the other side, and I especially wanted to be able to visit Dommie friends and check out their houses! Between visiting and poking around at my own house I came to a terrible realization: the Dommies have way better housing options, especially to start out with.

I'm not sure I want to live in something a Chua built.

I’m not sure I want to live in something a Chua built.

The cozy Draken house reminds me a lot of the Granok version. It has weird curvy wall and lots of vertical space to play with. The Chua one requires some planning to use most effectively, since it is basically just a tall cylinder. I found some great ones that made them into warm, inviting, multi-story libraries though!

The real gem is the Cozy Cassian House, pictured at the top of this post, which is far too roomy to be truly “cozy.” I spent several minutes trying to get a good screenshot of just how spacious this thing is on the inside, but nothing I did could truly do it justice. I suspect this starter house has more space to work with than some of the “Spacious” houses. Most notably, it is a normal house shape, without a lot of weird little nooks and crannies, so you can partition it off in tons of different ways. I have mine divided into 3 floors and they still feel very open. I suspect you could get as many as 5 stories out of this thing if you really wanted to. The spacious version is even bigger, but like all the spacious houses it is divided up into a few rooms by default, so you have a bit less control over how the finished space will look.

I know that if you could purchase the opposite faction’s houses from the cash shop when WildStar goes free to play this fall I would probably be eager and willing to fork over some cash to get access to these houses. And the default music is pretty great too!

As a postscript, I’d like to announce that I will be participating in this year’s Blaugust event. Prepare to be amazed as my posting goes from “lackadaisical” to “forced march” as I try to meet the challenge of a daily post for the month of August. Wish me luck!

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that Ding!

Ding!

Ding!

Today’s post is inspired by these recent posts from my friends Lonomonkey and Tamrielo about the concept of levels and feeling “left behind” in MMOs. I need to start by saying that I have a bit of an obsessive personality. When I start playing a new game, especially if I enjoy it, I tend to spend most of my free time playing and trying to progress. This can take a couple of forms. If the game is new or if few of my friends are playing, I will tend to do all of the possible quests and leveling activities, devouring all of the content on offer and trying to experience as much of the world as possible. When WildStar launched, I had purposefully avoided leveling much in the beta so that I could take this course and spend all my time enjoying the new sights, quests and lore. The other form of my obsession kicks in when I am starting out “behind,” either on a new server or in a new-to-me game where my friends are already established. In this case, I will level like a speed demon, ignoring anything extraneous to my goal of “catching up” with my friends. I did this when I started playing FFXIV, speeding through cutscenes and missing out on a huge amount of lore and side quests.

It seems like a level-free MMO where I could just jump in and start playing with my friends right away in that second scenario should be amazing, right? Well…I’m not so sure. The first issue I have is that even without levels, I’d hope that there would still be some form of progression, either through stats, skills, or gear. That means that even if you could technically play with your friends right away, you would still be behind them on that progression. The natural end state of this is getting carried through content until you catch up, which pretty much sounds like the same thing that can happen while leveling too. Let me tell you, dear readers, I would rather feel like I was behind and missing out on doing cool things with my friends than to be carried through content in a blur, feeling useless.

One great thing about most modern MMOs is that they’ve added rallying or level-syncing systems. I don’t have to level alone just because my friends have gotten ahead of me, and importantly, since we’re synced to the same level I will never feel like I’m just being carried. Sure, usually the higher-level character still has a power advantage, but if the system is good the low-level player still feels like they are pulling their own weight. The very best of these systems also give rewards that are useful to both the high and low level players for playing together this way.

The other issue I have is that the time I spend catching up is also time spent learning to play the game better. When FFXIV launched its recent expansion, I was a bit slow out of the gate. A couple friends got far ahead of me and I admit I got frustrated and cranky at being behind. It motivated me to start leveling faster to catch up. For me, this meant healing lots of dungeons. In the end, this was the best possible thing for me, since all that practice made a big difference as I was re-learning how to play my class with all the changes from the expansion. If I had just been able to jump in with my friends, I would have been a far crappier healer and they would have paid the price for it.

I know I’m a bit unusual in my speed leveling ways, but I am happy to keep enjoying leveling in MMOs. I would not avoid the leveling process if I could. It lets you make steady progress, learn your class, and is way clearer to a new player than most skill point or gear-based progression. Plus you get rewarded with fun level-up animations and that sweet sweet “DING!”

On Loot Explosions

Lookin' good Feelin' good

Lookin’ good Feelin’ good

Ok maybe not feeling 100% good, since my efforts at the Hero’s Journey fitness challenge mostly make me want to curl up on the floor, but I’m sticking with it!  Today I want to talk about something near and dear to the hearts of all MMO players: Loot.

The acquisition of more and greater loot has been on my mind a lot recently, since I’ve been dipping my toe into the waters of WildStar raiding as well as gearing up for raiding in Final Fantasy XIV. Gearing up to a raid-ready level in WildStar may have been a slightly unusual process for me since I was 50 for a very long time before I set foot in a raid. This meant I had bits and pieces of gear from questing, reputation vendors, and crafters, as well as a couple week’s worth of rewards from contracts. This got my power level to be “ok” for raiding, but if I had wanted to be optimal I would have had to run dungeons. At the raiding level, the gear is mainly random drops, with a few pieces available through the currency vendors. This system, combined with the attunement process, ensures that folks are spending a lot of time practicing with WildStar’s combat before they get enough gear to move on to the next stage of progression.

The 3rd boss in FFXIV's new Alexander raid

A boss from FFXIV’s new Alexander raid

In contrast, FFXIV tends to funnel people into raid content fairly quickly once they reach the level cap. The currency you need to turn in for raid-ready gear could be easily farmed in a matter of days. One difference here is that in FFXIV, everything is locked behind the story quests, and the story forces you to experience almost all of the dungeons and “trials” (generally 8-person single-boss encounters). The designers of FFXIV can pretty much assume that if someone has reached level 60 they probably can handle early raid encounters, so they allow people to get to that content quickly. A change in the Heavensward expansion has also replaced loot in the first raid with tokens that can be redeemed for raid-level gear for any class.

Honestly I’m a fan of the token system. There is no feeling crappier than killing a difficult raid boss only to have it drop loot that nobody in your group has a use for. Tokens are less exciting, but mean that someone will be getting something useful almost every time you kill that boss. Still, even when random boss drops can feel frustrating or disappointing, WildStar has one thing that nobody else has. There is nothing I love more than seeing the loot explosion spray in beautiful purple (and sometimes orange) out of a dead boss for everyone to see!

Hero’s Journey!

This post is a bit about the Gracie behind the keyboard, so if you’re looking for WildStar fun you’ll have to stop by next week.

Still here? Great! This week Chestnut of Gamer Girl Confessions has been drumming up interest in doing the Hero’s Journey fitness challenge. Since she’s a fellow blogger, lover of WildStar and a member of my FFXIV free company I knew that she has excellent taste, so I decided to join with her. Since in real life there’s no way I could keep up with all the double jumping, telegraph dodging, and general running around that in-game Gracie does every day, I will be starting the challenge at the easiest setting. Hopefully by having a great group of friends going on this journey together I will be able to stay motivated and stick with it.

Are you interested in following along on the journey? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter! The more the merrier!

Raiding!

Remnants of Hope in Genetic Archives

Remnants of Hope in Genetic Archives. Please note my terrible hat.

After playing WildStar for a full year, I finally got myself attuned to the first raid, Genetic Archives. And by got myself attuned, I mean my loving guildies dragged me through the final few dungeons I needed to finish it. Before my hiatus, I had been moving ahead pretty quickly and trying to get into raiding as soon as I could. After I returned, though, I was much happier just doing dailies and contracts, and making some money. I felt rusty and slow, and didn’t want to need to be carried through things. As it turns out, those few weeks of going solo did help me ease back into the game enough to at least carry my own weight through the vet dungeons I needed. I had also jumped into a couple world boss groups, which meant as soon as I got to that point in the attunement chain I could immediately turn the quest back in. In short order I found myself around on a raid night with no excuses to keep me from being pulled into GA.

My first reaction was “this is very purple,” then “holy cow 20 people in a raid,” and “that’s a lot of telegraphs.” My raiding history has spanned several MMOs and raid sizes, but I always seem to prefer the smaller 8-10 person raids. As a healer it feels so much nicer to get to know the group and how they work together, and it feels like each player’s contribution matters more. For my first WildStar raid, however, I was extremely happy to be just one little DPS in a crowd. That way every time I got murdered it didn’t slow the group down too much! Logistically, recruiting and maintaining a 20+ person roster is much more of a nightmare for raid leading. I also think for a somewhat niche game like WildStar that asking guilds to maintain huge rosters to be able to raid is just not a great idea, which I guess is why they got rid of the 40-person size raids.

“But Gracie, we don’t care what you think about raid sizes, what were the encounters like?” Well, I was surprised at how…unsurprising they were. After getting to know the style of this game, and seeing the crazy vet dungeon encounters, I imagined all kinds of nightmarish possibilities for what the bosses would be like. Instead, the vet dungeons do a pretty great job of preparing you, and mechanics are similar to what you’d expect from any modern raid. There were definitely lots of telegraphs to dodge but everything seemed reasonable. I am certain it was helped by being in there with an established raid group that had cleared those bosses already.

I guess my assessment is: WildStar raiding is fun! If you are intimidated by the echos of “HARDCORE” and terrified of some sort of telegraph hell, don’t be! If you can make it through all the content for the attunement then you can definitely deal with what the first floor of GA will throw at you. What are you waiting for? Get to it cupcakes!

Zero to Hero

Every soul on Evindra helped kill this thing and then complained there was no loot.

Every soul on Evindra helped kill this thing and then loudly complained that there was no loot.

The past few weeks have been a bit of a WildStar whirlwind for me. I had been on a bit of a hiatus for the beginning of this year, playing some WoW and mainly Final Fantasy XIV instead. But like everyone else on my friends list, I heard the announcement that WildStar is headed to F2P this fall and came back to poke around again.

The timing of this was perfect since it matched up with the anniversary event. Hooray for free pets and toys and such! I even got to participate in the “special event,” pictured above. It was amazing to see so many players in one place together, but I will never be able to un-hear the sound of 500 medics all casting at once. I think my computer still has nightmares about it.

I’m really excited about the transition to F2P. From the look of it, Carbine is being pretty generous about what bits of the game will be “free.” Even though I haven’t been playing constantly, I have been subscribed via CREDD since launch, which means I hopefully have some extra goodies heading my way when the transition happens.

The best thing about the announcement is simply that it brought me back to this game that I love. I’m finally caught up on all the changes that were made while I was away, and invested in my character and the world again. I even got raid attuned, with a lot of help and peer pressure from my wonderful guild. I can’t wait to tell you all about what raiding is like in WildStar!

Comings and Goings

Disgracie.140511.214827Happy New Year!

You may have noticed that it’s been awfully quiet around here lately. The truth is that I’ve been playing less WildStar. I resubbed to WoW because that is where a large number of my friends went. And then I spent the last month agonizing over that decision and hating myself and being annoyed and surly, even if I wasn’t always sure why I felt that way. Hopefully getting it out of my system in blog form will be cathartic for me and maybe either eye-opening for some folks or reassuring for others who might be going through a similar situation.

MMOs Warm Bodies and Betrayal

These games we love are only at their best when their virtual worlds are populated. While sometimes we might fantasize about playing a MMO completely solo, the truth is they just work better and feel more alive with bustling economies and people around to join in the fun. Since for most of us our free time and often our money are limiting resources, there’s not a lot of room for multiple time-consuming MMOs in our lives. There’s some room for multiple MMOs to exist in the market, but lots of discussion gets pinned on “WoW-killers” or “Next Great Thing” and doesn’t leave a lot of room for individual people to enjoy and be vocal about many games at once.

Especially in the case of WildStar, which I’ve been an advocate for from the pre-launch hype through the highs and lows of launch and through the population decline and server merges, it feels like even admitting I also play WoW is some betrayal. That giving subscription dollars and my free time to both is somehow admitting the defeat of WildStar or kicking it while it is down. WildStar still seems to me to have plenty of happy players making it into a living world, but I’m sure that Carbine would be happier to see subscription numbers increasing. Since I want the game to succeed, I feel like a jerk for enjoying multiple games, instead of advocating for the one I like best.

That can't be good for property values.

So creepy. And pretty. Pretty creepy.

Home is Where…?

The interesting thing is that playing both has made me love and appreciate WildStar even more, yet WoW is where I’ve been spending more time. I made up this quick list of things I like about each game:

WildStar –

World and Lore – I love sci-fi, I like this world, and I like being a part of the story as it develops. I absolutely can not wait to see what happens with Drusera and what other worlds we might visit next!

Art and Visuals – This game is beautiful. Every time I log in I can’t stop taking screenshots, or just running around my house looking at the sky.

Music – My favorite MMO soundtrack hands-down, and perhaps second only to Bastion as favorite video game music period. Like so much of WildStar for me, it wasn’t what I expected at all, and I love it!

Combat – The telegraphs and active combat do have a learning curve, but after you get used to it everything else seems incredibly boring by comparison.

Healing – Healing in WS is unlike any other MMO I’ve played, feels more like a natural extension of the combat instead of its own minigame.

Customizability – Character appearance, costumes, mounts, paths, the Limited Action Set, there’s just tons of options to really make your character your own.

Housing – In its own category from customization because it could be a whole game in itself. Any of you who’ve read this blog from the beginning know that it was housing which really sealed the deal for me with WildStar even though I hadn’t cared much for it in other games.

Zero-G Hoverboarding – ‘Nuff said.

 

World of Warcraft –

Ease of Access – Within a week or two of returning after a long absence I was able to catch up with my guild and start raiding. WoW is king of low-barrier-to-entry, for good or ill.

Personal History – It has been around 8 years since I first step foot on Azeroth, and that history is baked into my characters, and the lens through which I view that world. I also have a stable of alts ready to tackle pretty much any content I would like to do.

Time-appropriate Activities – WoW has so much content of different types that it is always easy to find something to do that feels like progress, even if it is just refreshing garrison missions. Raids and dungeons take appropriate amounts of time, varying with their difficulty.

Content – There’s 10 years worth of stuff to do.

Friends – I’ve made a lot of friends through WildStar, but the truth is most of my friends end up pulled back into WoW’s gravity well. This is really the biggest factor, and also the one that makes me wish there was some secret to convincing everyone to love WildStar as much as I do.

Given all those things to like about both games, what do I actually end up doing with my time? Do I spend time in WildStar enjoying the active combat, and focus on the accessible group content in WoW? Nope. In WildStar lately I just run around my house, sometimes doing my mini-instance and fussing with my decor. In WoW, outside of 4 hours of raid time per week I just end up sitting in my garrisons on my herd of alts, updating missions and fussing over follower gear. I never seem to feel like I have enough time to spend in WildStar to get over my inertia and go out into the world to do things. Meanwhile I feel like if I’m not constantly micromanaging my followers in WoW then I’m missing out on some theoretical benefit. The net result is that my MMO time lately feels incredibly unproductive. I get down on myself for not spending enough time in the game I like better, but when I do play WildStar I miss my friends or just don’t have the energy after a long day to engage with some of the content I enjoy.

The kicker is my love of raiding. I can raid LFR, normal, or hard mode in WoW after minimal spin-up time, but after playing WildStar since launch I am still not raid attuned, nor do I have a group of people I could even raid with. Even if I got over those hurdles, I get the impression that raiding in WildStar would probably require a lot more than 4 hours per week of effort. In fact if I could find a raiding guild in WildStar that would help get me up to speed, then I’d definitely have to leave WoW and those friends behind, which fills me with guilt and sadness.

In the end I certainly won’t be leaving WildStar anytime soon, but I don’t know what the future holds for WoW for me or what my play time will look like in the coming months. I know some folks manage to play multiple MMOs by scheduling separate days for each one, so maybe that’s something that would work for me. Do any of you play multiple MMOs with success? What are your secrets to making it work?

For Science

Belle Walker, scientist.

Belle Walker, scientist.

Note: this post contains some spoilers for the story leading up to (but not including) Drop 3. Fairly warned be ye.

Even though Gracie is an explorer in-game, in real life I am a scientist. I generally have a love-hate relationship with the portrayal of science in video games, movies and television. This is due to the frequency with which several annoying stereotypes or tropes crop up, including the completely socially inept scientist, and the Frankenstein, “scientist tries to play god and causes destruction” trope. So I come to any sci-fi based game, especially one where “scientist” is player option for path content, with some trepidation.

WildStar definitely plays into some of the tropes that bother me so much. The two player races with the strongest scientific minds? The Mordesh, who have meddled trying to create immortality and thus unleashed the ravenous upon the world, and the Chua, who take science to mean weaponizing everything and experimenting without petty worries like ethics. That’s not a great start. Then we have the Eldan, who have done crazy things to Nexus, manipulated the genetics of sentient races because of petty interpersonal squabbles, and oh yeah, meddled by trying to create a god and thus unleashed a horror upon the universe. Because using that trope once just wasn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong I love the Mordesh and I’m engrossed in the world story, but I could use less of the Frankenstein trope.

On the “socially inept scientist” front WildStar does a bit better. Yes, some of the scientists are a bit overly focused on their work, but there are so many scientists in the game there is plenty of room for all kinds of characters. I especially like seeing scientists from the “non-sciency” races, for example the Granok lady scientist who gives you a quest in Crimson Badlands. My favorite is the Granok scientist in Whitevale, who rightly points out that just because he’s a big burly rock man doesn’t mean he can’t be a good scientist.

Lucy Lazarin, I'll never forget you.

Lucy Lazarin, I’ll never forget you.

Now another peeve of mine is that the number of women scientists and their portrayal in fiction is lacking. So imagine my delight at the sheer quantity of lady scientists (and soldiers, and spies, and leaders, and farmers, and and and…) in WildStar. I love them. I love Belle Walker and her dual scanbots. Yes they’re silly, but this week I learned from a loading screen tooltip that she created them with differing personalities so that they’d help her understand things from several perspectives. I think that level of care is just amazing, and it changed my mind from “Belle is slightly flakey and impulsive” to “Belle is more cunning than anyone gives her credit for”. The writers are trying to create a complete person here. Belle is young and sometimes reckless to be sure, but she is also incredibly smart and capable too. I had an absolute blast running alongside her in the OMNICore1 instance.

Next up is another place where WildStar disappointed me. I love Lucy Lazarin, and I hated what happened to her in Blighthaven. If I could sit down with (Carbine Creative Director) Chad Moore and ask him one question, it would be: why couldn’t that have happened to Victor, and Lucy have been the one to carry on his research? Or maybe something else entirely could have happened there. I mean, imagine the crazy universe where women don’t have to have horrible things happen to them to fuel the plot motivation for the men in their lives. I’m not going to dwell on this too much here, but let’s just say that I threw my rowsdower plushie across the room when I played through that quest, and that Lucy had interesting potential as a character and deserved better.

I think that it is great that we get multiple father-daughter scientist or explorer teams in this game. Both Lucy and Belle fall into this category, and I can think of at least one more team (in Galeras) off the top of my head. Functional families that work together are not something you necessarily see a ton of in MMORPGs. However, it does strike me that we have 3 cases of father-daughter pairs. I would have really liked to see an instance where the senior person was a woman.

Women are underrepresented at the highest levels in most occupations, and scientists are no different. Young women enter academic science in approximately equal numbers to men, but there’s a large amount of attrition as you progress from postdoc to senior faculty. Unfortunately WildStar seems to mimic the real world in that sense. Having at least one of the family pairs with a mother taking the lead would have really meant a great deal to me, and would have sent a powerful message.

Elyona, mother and scientist?

Elyona, mother and scientist?

The one place where we get to see some hints of a mother scientist are with Elyona. She was the Eldan tasked with raising Drusera. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see their relationship in too much detail since it took place before we arrived on Nexus, and the Elyona we see has been corrupted by the Entity.

Overall WildStar certainly doesn’t do any worse than other media being produced right now. I feel like I am especially hard on it in some ways because it gets so much right and I want it to be even better. It makes me incredibly happy to be able to wander around in a world full of scientists of different races and genders. I hope this game keeps getting more thing right, and keeps feeling like a world that I want to be a part of. For Science.

Patchmas Eve

Looking stylish while waiting for the tree event to get going

Looking stylish while waiting for the tree event to get going

In just a few short hours Drop 3 will be upon us! If you haven’t been following the WildStar news, Drop 3 is basically combining several months worth of content, tuning, and bug fixes. This means when the servers come back up we’ll have lots of new things to do, and also lots of changes to get used to. Hopefully nothing gets too broken in the process, but with a patch this huge I am sure there will be something that doesn’t go as planned.

I couldn’t even say what I am looking forward to the most. There’s so much being added or changed that I hardly know where to begin. I think the increase to the decor limit is one of the best things, but I am also really looking forward to having new quests to run through. I have spent the past week trying to tie up some loose ends, in between running adventures and dungeons with my new guildies. I’ve managed to max out my reputation with the Guardians of the Grove, and I’m just 1 or 2 days away from capping out the Malgrave Research Initiative. This is extra good since there’s a whole new reputation to start working on tomorrow. Like Guardians of the Grove, I believe the new reputation will have an ability point unlock as a reward, so I want to jump in and get started on it ASAP. Importantly, it should also have architect blueprints for some strain-infested decor!

Thaydbelow

I died and fell through Thayd. That was a new one.

I have mixed feelings about the timing of this Drop. As some of you may have heard, there’s some other MMO releasing an expansion this week. The vast majority of my old friends have already been back in that MMO, getting ready to level and start raiding again in the new world. Having WildStar’s patch hit at the same time means that I will at least be distracted with new shiny things to do, so hopefully that will ease the longing for a time when my friends all played the same games together. On the other hand, it is a bit frustrating that all of the excitement of Drop 3 will be drowned out by the swarms of people playing that other game. It also means that some folks who might still want to give WildStar a chance will be long gone. Hopefully they will come back when the new expansion smell wears off in that other game. I’ll still be on Nexus, filling up my house with strain eyeballs and running my moonshine still.

Whether you’ll be celebrating tomorrow with malevolent alien plagues or orc-based time travel, I wish you the merriest of patch days. May the servers come up on time, the lag be tolerable, and the bugs be few!

 

With a Little Help

Lots of people doing the R12 event leads to the best taxi trains!

Lots of people doing the R12 event leads to the best taxi trains!

Howdy friends!

I’ve been so busy actually doing stuff in-game that I’ve been putting off writing about it here. The Megaserver seems to be a success as far as I can tell. The population seems strong and I’m slowly getting used to the fact that world bosses actually get killed and the R-12 event takes 15 minutes instead of an hour. An added bonus is that the AH is much more reasonable and active and people actually come and harvest my thicket for me so I’m not completely poor all the time!

Finishing Malgrave Trail with a guild group!

Finishing Malgrave Trail with a guild group!

In other exciting news, I joined a new guild. While I have to say that Chili and Cornbread was one of the most positive guild experiences I’ve ever had, most of the awesome people that filled it have now moved on to other games. I felt incredibly guilty leaving the guild as I was holding down the fort but MMOs are social games and without people around my interest was fading fast.

My new guild is Remnants of Hope (Entity-NA). I won’t ramble about them too much in case they change their minds about me at the last minute, but I’ve been having a blast since I joined. There are always people online to talk to, and I’ve run more group content in the past week than I had in the previous 3 months because there’s always something going on. I felt relatively content just doing my dailies and playing with my house while I was alone, but now I have a full buffet of content available and I realize how much I was missing. I know soon enough the vet adventures and dungeons will become old hat, but for now I am having a blast learning everything and pew pew-ing all the bad guys like the most bada$$ of cupcakes.