27 April 2012

On My Beginnings in SW:TOR

Ever since I first heard about a Star Wars themed MMO being produced I was terribly excited. Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope was basically the first film with live actors I have ever seen and to say that I was “merely fascinated” would be a total understatement. I loved it! I was watching it with a good childhood friend of mine who happened to own quite a lot of Star Wars merchandise and once the film was over, we happily began replaying everything we had just seen. Kids!

I had no doubt that I would engage in this new Star Wars MMO (unless it would be purely PvP based – maybe even then). When I found out that it was set in The Old Republic (as in Knights of the Old Republic – a game that I played through four times) I knew that nothing could stop me. I think it is pretty obvious that I was very positively biased towards this game. But I guess that is okay because there are some people out there who were absolutely negatively biased towards this game, some without even having played it while others only scratched the surface.

I bought my physical copy of the game in early January 2012 and have been subscribed ever since. I did not pre-order or participate in the Beta or anything like that. This meant that I had no first-hand knowledge of the game, only what I had read and seen online. The first character I created was a Jedi Consular – a class I wanted to play more than anything.

The Jedi consular story is a calmer and more quiet experience about being a healer and a diplomat ... -- Shintar

This sounds exactly like my kind of character – a diplomatic Healer.

However, I made the fateful mistake of creating a Human male and by the time I reached Coruscant, I just could not stand the male voice actor any more. Also, I have to admit that I find the telekinetic abilities visually boring. They simply cannot compare to the lightning mayhem of a Sith Inquisitor – incidentally the second character I created. My Sith Pureblood lady made it to level 40 when I was heavily distracted by Shintar’s praise for Troopers. So I thought I would give them a try, created a female Cyborg and never looked back. The Trooper’s story was too compelling, the class too fun to play right from the start that I saw it through to the end.

Kadomi talks about Star Wars: The Old Republic being the best duo experience ever and I can second that. Playing with my brother-in-law is a blast. Multiplayer conversations, not having to worry about finding players for [HEROIC] missions and the beautiful Mako all make for a delightful gaming experience.

I think many people greatly underestimated the appeal Star Wars would have on new players. In my journeys I have encountered plenty of people who said that this was their first ever MMO and that they decided to give it a try because it is Star Wars themed. This is also true for my little sister and her boyfriend. Both of them never had any interest in MMOs, but they are Star Wars fans. Now if only I could get my wife to play, too ... then we could form a real family guild: my wife, her brother, my sister and her boyfriend. Sounds like a good start, right?

At the moment I have five characters on three different English-speaking EU-servers (two RP-PvE and one normal PvE). However, I do have plans to test the French and German servers at some point. This might actually be more of a problem in Star Wars: The Old Republic than it was in World of Warcraft due to the story-driven playstyle. Maybe Warzones can function as an appropriate testing ground ...

In the future, I will try to post about many aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic and I'm quite sure that I will – at times – seem to be overly critical. That should not suggest, however, that I dislike the game in its current state, just that there is always room for improvement, e.g. server status, UI, GTN, etc.

25 April 2012

[Tag, You're It!]

Quite some time ago (*cough* about two months *cough*) Shintar tagged me to provide some screenshots. Unfortunately, I could not honour her request right away because (a) it interfered with my scheduled blogging plans and more importantly because (b) I do not take that many screenshots to begin with. I took a quick look at my World of Warcraft screenshot folder and did not find any good ones at all. Also, since the main focus of this blog should actually be on Star Wars: The Old Republic I wanted some screenshots from this game.

Better late than never they say, so here are – without further ado – four screenshots:

This is my level 50 – tanking – Vanguard, my main character, the commander of Havoc Squad, unwaveringly loyal to the Republic.


This is my level 40 – lightning – Sith Sorcerer, the second character I created. She is truly evil at heart and enjoys nothing more than causing destruction and mayhem. I took her to level 40, but then became really hooked on the Trooper’s story line and followed that though to the end.


This is my level 30 – healing – Operative, a character that I play exclusively with my brother-in-law. He is loyal to the Empire and favours the Light Side. This does cause some problems with his companion Kaliyo Djannis.


Finally, this screenshot shows a rather disturbing development. It seems like the "GOGOGO!" kiddies have already infiltrated a galaxy far, far away. I am a firm believer in the old Undead motto: Patience. Discipline.

24 April 2012

Concluding WoW

I subscribed to World of Warcraft in the summer of 2006 and unsubscribed at the end of December 2011. I played for quite a long time and saw all the highs and lows. At one point (for roughly three years) I was a hardcore raider and I turned more casual in Cataclysm. Concluding all this time is certainly not easy and cannot be done objectively. I did enjoy the game a great deal for a very long time but I found myself disagreeing more and more with the direction the developers were going. Suffice to say that classic (or "vanilla") World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade were vastly different from Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm and I am not even remotely interested in Mists of Pandaria.

Personally, I leveled every class to the level cap, some even multiple times. That means that by the end my wife and I had 17 level 85 characters between the two of us. My wife was never really interested in raiding or any kind of endgame activity. We only ever did (heroic) dungeons during The Burning Crusade. As soon as one of her characters reached the level cap she basically lost interest in them. She also did play a lot less than me anyway and was responsible for three of the 17 level 85 characters. My main character up until Cataclysm was my Druid – the first character I ever created. I successfully raided as a Healer and I was deeply disappointed by the removal of the permanent Tree of Life Form. But then again this design decision made it a bit easier for me to abandon my Druid and to create a Death Knight Tank on a new server to team up with my brother-in-law.

The constant design changes make it really difficult to select an all-time favourite class, but I think that overall I enjoyed the Paladin Tank, the Druid Healer and Mages in general most of all. I liked Hunters in Cataclysm. I think that Focus was the right thing to do and pets also behaved a lot smarter. I never really cared for Shamans or Rogues. Somehow they never really "clicked" with me. My Undead Rogue was more or less my departing project. I wanted to experience the revamped old world content and he hit the level cap shortly before I quit the game. I have to say that although the leveling speed was ridiculously fast (even without any kind of XP-bonus) the questing experience was generally rather pleasant. The progress through the Forsaken lands felt truly amazing with lots of exciting and hilarious quests.

My plethora of characters was scattered across multiple servers. I have a professional interest in psychology and linguistics and I wanted to experience the differences among the player base on different servers. Therefore, I had characters on several EU-servers (English, French, German and Spanish). I have to admit that my Spanish is rudimentary at best which did not really help my plan to observe player behaviour. However, I feel safe to say that the atmosphere on the Horde side of at least one Spanish-speaking realm seemed to be quite relaxed. The biggest surprises for me were the two French servers. The people there were extremely polite and very helpful. A common question in trade chat was: "I am sorry to bother you all, but could a Jewelcrafter [insert other profession here] please link their profession. Thank you." If someone tried selling a BoP item on trade he was kindly reminded that this was not possible. Compare the usual: "ffs, u cant sell bop u noob". Being a stranger on a French realm was among the most positive experiences I have had in my entire time on Azeroth. The German servers, in contrast, are very, very frustrating. They butcher the English language and their own language in ways that are beyond good and evil. There is a term for this phenomenon called Denglisch where an English word is morphologically adjusted and integrated into the German syntax. (This could almost cause eye cancer; I'm sure of it!) The atmosphere on those servers was also highly toxic and very unforgiving. Try selling a BoP item there, I dare you! I am more than certain that one can find pleasant people on German realms, too. I just have not met that many.

Now the (supposedly) English-speaking servers are a whole other issue. It is obvious that anyone who is not French, German or Spanish (-speaking), but wants to play on a European server will choose one labelled as 'English'. That does, however, not mean that this person has even a basic command of the English language as such. Most of the time this did not pose any problems and I guess that those people are a small minority. Things will become interesting when one realm is chosen as the "unofficial" server for people from that region. I was lucky enough to experience this twice. One server was populated by lots of Turkish-speaking people, many of whom either did not understand English or simply refused to communicate in English. This made grouping very problematic. At least before the Dungeon Finder it was possible to manually select ones comrades in arms. After that it became increasingly difficult to form pre-made groups (not counting Rent-a-Tank) and on many occasions I would join a dungeon group via the Dungeon Finder and find two or three of the participants talking in a language other than English. I would then politely remind them to please communicate in English but, alas, I was mostly ignored. Seeing this, I would immediately add those people to my Ignore List. The old World of Warcraft website actually had a passage that explicitly stated that the server language was binding for all public communication on that realm. This page, however, cannot be found on the new Battle.net website. With the Dungeon Finder dungeons not being on the world server, but on an instance server, it would not matter anyway. I encountered the other example of an "unofficial" server when I joined Gevlon's Undergeared project on his home realm EU-Arathor, which had a very large population of Hungarian players.

Now, please don't take this the wrong way: I have absolutely nothing against people from any nationality (in fact I consider myself European, maybe even Cosmopolitan) but I think that in the interest of fairness, we should all at least make an effort to communicate in a way that includes everyone and allows for a broader understanding – participation being the operative word. If someone wants to enjoy group content with their friends who are unable to communicate in the realm’s language, they could at least be polite enough to use the /whisper chat-mode.

I already mentioned the Undergeared project. I wanted to take this up in this post because it certainly was one of the most memorable experiences for me. The project had many haters right from the start which might also have to do with its highly controversial leader. Nevertheless, the atmosphere while raiding was very relaxed and highly professional. The set-up was always unstable because we had to take whoever was online that evening. There were at least three people in the Icecrown Citadel runs who had never been in there before – one of whom has never even raided before and we managed to defeat the "unbeatable" Festergut with that group. This project could have gone a long way and I felt rather sad when it came to a sudden end.

Despite my dislike for PvP there was a time when I was a member of a 2v2 Arena Team with a very good in-game friend. He was in fact a very mature teenager – quite a surprise for me when I found that out. I suck so bad at PvP it's almost criminal and I should really feel ashamed basically having been boosted by him. One night we were teamed against two Rogues and unsurprisingly I died after about 20 seconds. How my Mage friend managed to defeat those two Rogues on his own is beyond me. That was truly amazing! Other times we did some Battlegrounds together with some more friends and non-guildies which was also fun, but I never really enjoyed it that much – it was more the social aspect of it that I liked.

The reasons why I no longer enjoy World of Warcraft are manifold and have all been exhaustively and eloquently described by others. Have a closer look at my ESSENTIAL READING page, this post by Zellviren is particularly relevant.

In addition, the one thing that caused me to quit more than anything else can be summed up by saying: "GOGOGO!" Rushing through mindless content, fast-paced action, requiring ultra-fast reflexes (twitch) and basically instant gratification and speed above all simply do not appeal to me. I enjoyed the slower, more tactical approach of classic WoW and The Burning Crusade where one false move could basically mean a wipe for one's group and where 5-player content (at any level) was seen as an alternative to raiding and not a mere stepping stone on the way. Designated pullers and pull spots, group composition based on class and skill and most importantly a strong community where ones reputation truly mattered – I cannot find any of this any more anywhere in World of Warcraft.

In conclusion, I can say that I did greatly enjoy the game for a long time, but by looking at the current design and future plans, I feel that I am no longer among the target audience of this game.