Steam Summer Sale Stash

I’ve been on Steam for 6 years, though I never really paid much attention to the big sales, or Steam as a whole until recently. The Steam Summer Sale seemed like a huge trap for those gamers with hoarding tendencies – the ones who would purchase 50 games and maybe play 3 of them. Recent statistical sampling has shown that this is a valid concern. 37% of games registered on Steam have never been played. Hot tip: even if it only costs $1.99, if you never play it, it’s not really a bargain. I’ll never understand the mentality of just wanting to buy/own things but never use them. But I digress.

I’ve purchased 8 games so far on sale, and overall I’ve been happy with my purchases.  Here’s a brief rundown on a few of the games I’ve had a chance to play.

Don’t Starve

Don’t Starve, as indicated by its title, is a survival game. You play a character lost in the wilderness and you need to survive. Don’t starve. Don’t get killed by evil frog monsters. That’s about it. The environment is filled with things that can help you survive – seeds you can eat or plant (if you find the place to plant them); trees you can chop down to build fires or weapons; cute little bunnies you can trap, murder, cook, and eat. As you progress through the game you can learn to build new things – new weapons, clothing, items to keep your sanity level up. If you starve (or get killed by frogs) you are permanently dead and need to start over from the beginning.

The first time I played this I found it thoroughly charming. The art style and music is great, the exploration was fun, and the whole game has an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek quality. I think I lived for 6 days before I went through a wormhole and made the mistake of attacking some pig creatures which immediately killed me. A big part of the fun was learning how to build new things. At the start you can only build a few simple things – an axe, a torch, a small trap – but after finding the right materials, you can build a science machine and create prototypes of new items and equipment. Doing this really opened up the in-game possibilities, but I died not long after I built it.

Don't Starve

On my second play I survived longer – 7 or 8 days I think. However, in all this time, I never found a gold nugget required to build the science machine. This greatly impacted my enjoyment of the game, as it stifled any sense of forward progress and became all about wandering around searching for boulders to mine, while still having to collect mats to build fires and feed myself. I got bored and frustrated rather quickly and threw myself into a beehive.

I’m hoping my second play through was an anomaly (the maps are randomly generated, after all) and the materials for the science machine are generally easier to find. I’d like to find out what I can build, discover, and what kinds of creatures I can take on if I procure some more powerful weapons and armor. I’ll be giving it another shot soon. After a quick scan of a Don’t Starve wiki, it seems like there’s still a lot to discover, and even an adventure mode to open up, which I’d like to try out.

Prison Architect

I run very hot and cold on simulation games. SimCity or The Sims? I’ve tried them and got bored real fast. I’ve never had the urge to play any of the Tycoon or Themepark games. But, Afterlife – a game where you build heaven and hell – is a game I’ve sunk many hours into and really enjoyed. Playboy: The Mansion – basically The Sims with a business component of having to publish a magazine – is a game I loved play-testing back in my video game QA days. Theme Hospital – a game released in 1997 – is something I still go back to and play every once in a while.

I like my sims a little on the odd side, so Prison Architect seemed right up my alley. This game is still in alpha – it’s an Early Access sale – but is quite playable. The introduction has you building an execution chamber for an existing jail. The game walks you through step-by-step, from placing the foundations and choosing flooring materials, to building enough capacitors so your power generator isn’t overloaded when the switch is flipped, all the way to walking your inmate to his holding cell. As you play, you also get a bit of the story of the prisoner, shown with comic book images and decent voice acting. I really liked the tutorial scenario.

Prison Architect

The next phase of the game stops holding your hand and tasks you with building a whole prison. You are given some basic instructions (like you need a warden and a kitchen before your prisoners arrive), but overall everything is very open. The planning and construction aspects are surprisingly deep. You don’t just drag and drop objects into rooms, you need to build the walls, the floor, designate what the space will be used for, build the plumbing, the generators, the wiring. It was actually a bit overwhelming.

My problem with the game is that it starts with a rich, objective-based, story-laden intro, and then it dumps you into a giant sandbox without a whole lot of context or storytelling. Apparently a story mode of the game is planned, but it hasn’t been developed yet. If you like a more pure sim experience and just want to build things, I’d recommend the game. However, if you’re like me and want some goals and narrative in your games, I’d wait until further into the development cycle.

Talisman: Digital Edition

I love big, complex board games. Until I don’t. I’ve played a lot of board games where I start out with a big group of friends and a lot of excitement to play. Four hours later, I wonder – will this game ever end? Talisman: Digital Edition is a very faithful port of the classic board game and allows you to play either online with friends or against AI opponents.

Talisman

I’ve played a lot of this since I bought it, partially because it doesn’t require that much attention. It’s turn-based so I can play while watching an episode of some tv show (I finished season 6 of Glee while play, don’t judge me), or I can tab out of WoW to take my turn. I really like when board games are digitized. Not having to keep track of a tabletop full of life tokens and counters and spells, or put them away at the end, is a big plus for me.

If you like the Talisman boardgame, you’ll probably like this. The Talisman expansions are also available to add on, I think I might get these, as the original Crown of Command win scenario is not very well thought out.


I haven’t had a chance to play Monaco, Spelunky, or To the Moon yet, and I’ve only briefly played Warlock – Master of the Arcane. So far my favourite game I’ve picked up is The Swapper, a puzzle-platformer that takes place on a huge spaceship. I really love it so far, but I want to finish it before I write about it.

Have you picked up anything that you’d recommend?

Monkey on my Back

I haven’t done a /played in a while. I don’t really want to see the number of days it would show me. I know I’ve spent over a year of my life in Azeroth though. I’ve been thinking about how this game manages to gets its hooks in so deep for so long.

Collection

People love things. And WoW has so many (pixelated) things to collect. There’s gear, gold, companion/battle pets, mounts, vanity items, toys, tabards, profession recipes. Though some things aren’t even part of a collection per-say, those of us with hoarding tendencies can even make endless loops around zones to farm stockpiles of ore or herbs. Not everyone will want to collect everything (I hate vanity items and delete them from my bags immediately), but there’s something for everyone. I don’t even like pet battles but I still went around and collected every pet in Azeroth at one point. As long as there is some new object to collect, even if you have to kill something 700 times before lady luck smiles upon you and it drops, people will log in.

Completion

This one goes along with Collection, and is the one that usually got me. Achievements. For the collectors, possessing those 90 battle pets found in Eastern Kingdoms was the reward. For me, it was those five (5!! /cry) achievement points I got when I caught the last one. I didn’t give a shit about the pets themselves, and I certainly didn’t have fun for 90% of the time I spent collecting them. But those shiny, arbitrary points – I wanted them all. Of course achievements aren’t unique to WoW, or MMOs. If a game has a multi-platform release, I’ll always get it for Xbox because I love those gamer points (and the Xbox controller). The difference is, going for all the achievements in your average Xbox game will only take a couple extra hours. In WoW, the time investment needed can be absolutely ridiculous. And it needs to be, or else you’d get them all and have nothing to log in for. At one point I wanted to go for Battlemaster. Then I realized that would likely be at least a hundred hours of generally frustrating gameplay (that number is a total guess and probably a very conservative one). I spent hours going for archaeology achievements, an activity which was about as interesting as watching paint dry (and with paint, at least there are fumes).The pinnacle of ludicrousness came recently, with Going to Need a Bigger Bag. We haven’t had new content in 9 months, but people are still logging in to camp mobs, kill mobs, hate life when the last item they need doesn’t drop, and then do it all over again.

Competition

I like to raid, I like to do it well, and I want to kill things before most people. How could I ever unsub while there’s still that last big bad to kill? Of course, the raid competition bug bites many people a lot harder than me. I like to kill bosses, but I also like my 9 hour per week raid schedule. For those who are truly competitive, they not only log upwards of 12, 15, 20, hours per week raiding, they also do all the current raiding extras – rep grinds, valor capping, food farming, and consumable crafting. The truly competitive even go so far as to level and gear up alts so they can run content multiple times, funnel gear to raider mains, etc. It’s not enough to just see the content, you need to see it and defeat it first, and with that comes a lot of time commitment.

Community

In a multi-player game, this one is the biggie. If I can take a step back, the collection, completion, and competition aspects that have kept me playing this game for 8 years seems rather inane. When the servers shut down and Jasyla the Night Elf Druid is no more, will I care that I had 173 mounts, 19460 achievement points, or that my guild was the 176th US 25man guild to defeat Heroic Iron Qon? Not likely. But I will care about all the friends I met in-game, the friendships that extended into real life, and the people I haven’t met but chat with often on Twitter or blog comments. I’ve seen a number of people over the past week or so really struggling with wanting to step away from WoW over some things that have been said by executives recently, and not wanting to leave their friends, the community of people they’ve become a part of. I’m sure that obligation is a thing that keeps a lot of people playing over the years. Wanting to avoid additional obligation is the thing that’s kept me from ever picking up another MMO habit. When I don’t enjoy playing the newest Final Fantasy game, I just stop – return it to the store if I’m feeling ambitious. No harm, no foul. But when WoW gets boring, when the healing game sucks, boss fights require spreadsheets, and we don’t see any new content for a year? Stopping isn’t so easy since it means losing a big source of connection to the community.

Conclusion

There is no conclusion. It doesn’t end, you never win. The story doesn’t get wrapped up. So you’ve killed heroic Garrosh? Just wait for a bit and there will be a whole new set of bads to kill (also, you didn’t really kill him, sucker, he’ll be back because we can never get enough orc bros). There will always be another quest zone, a new PVP season, a new raid instance. You may feel a sense of accomplishment now, but it will fade as soon as the next thing is released, and you’ll have something new you need to conquer.

So, I guess that’s how it happens. One day a friend says “hey, you should try this, I think you’d like it”. The next thing you know, its 8 years later, you’re still playing, you’ve spent $1500 on subscription fees, and dedicated 10,000 hours of your life to a single game but still can’t say that you’ve beat it.

Two Telltale Tales

I’ve been playing through Telltale’s A Wolf Among Us, since the first episode was released last fall. After my great experience with The Walking Dead, I was ready to continue my ride on the Telltale train.

A Wolf Among Us is a gorgeous game with the same, heavily-outlined, cell-shaded art as TWD. But it also has some of its own style, with an atmosphere that looks like a cross between Heavy Rain and Vice City. The story (based on the graphic novels Fables), what I’ve seen of it so far, is good. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. I love the premise of having fairy tale characters living, in secret, in the real world.

The game is usually referred to as an adventure game but in reality it’s more of an interactive story, with quick time events. Ninety percent of the game requires no interaction at all; it’s mostly watching characters interact with each other. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, as the characters are very watchable and the writing is well done. When you do actually get to play the game, it mostly involves walking through a room and examining things, or making dialogue choices (plus the quick time events whenever you end up fighting someone). Really, the formula is identical to TWD. Heavy on narrative, light on game play.

So I’m left wondering… why did I love The Walking Dead, while my experience so far with A Wolf Among Us is only mediocre?

I think part of the problem is the episodic nature of the games. TWD fit into episodes very well. Though they were all part of the larger story about Lee and Clementine, each episode had a logical endpoint which wrapped up the smaller narrative. Episode 1 was about the characters dealing with the initial zombie outbreak and finding a safe (for now) place to stay. Episode 2 dealt with finding another group of survivors on a farm, etc. Episode 4 was the only one that ended with a real cliff-hanger, something that wasn’t wrapped up within the episode. Wolf, on the other hand, is not so neatly broken up. There are no smaller stories; it’s all about Bigby searching for a serial killer within Fabletown. So when an episode ends, I don’t feel as if I’ve really completed anything, I just feel frustrated that I’ll have to wait another 3 months to get the next part of the story.

Time between episodes is also a big problem. Whereas I didn’t start playing TWD until 4 episodes were already out, I’ve been playing Wolf as it’s released. With TWD I felt like a got a solid 8 hour game, followed by a short wait for the finale, while with Wolf the ratio of game time (episodes take about 90 minutes to finish) to waiting time seems insane. My interest level has gone down with each episode.

There’s also a problem with the characters. The Wolf story and characters aren’t gripping me like they should. This is odd, as the atmosphere and story of Wolf are way more appealing to me than TWD on a surface level. But for some reason it’s not grabbing me. With Lee in TWD I felt very close to his character – decisions he (I) made had an effect on me, and how the rest of the characters saw him was important. With Bigby, I’m just an observer. Whether the other characters respect the tactics he uses to get what he needs doesn’t really matter to me, I just want him to solve the mystery. TWD’s decisions felt like moral decisions. Wolf’s feel somewhat less than – is it really immoral for a wolf to rip out someone’s throat? TWD, for me, was a role-playing game. Wolf is a story, and one I could get through much faster if I just read the graphic novels.

Another aspect that makes Wolf feel more like a story than a game to me is that I’m not finding any of the decisions I make or conversations paths I choose make much of a difference. I know that in TWD the ending was set – your decisions didn’t change what ultimately happened; only who was with you in the end, but regardless of that, the choices felt important. I wanted to make decisions that would make Clem strong, so she would survive (side-note: having a child character so prominently featured in the game who I wanted to save rather than knock off was quite a writing feat). I wanted the other characters in my party to trust me. I wanted to save as many people as possible. In Wolf, I don’t feel any of these things. When the text pops up “Toad will remember that,” I think “so?” he’s going to give me the information I need whether or not I backed him up in the previous chapter. Choosing to visit one location over another makes me think I’m going to miss a small scene, but I don’t think it’s impacting the outcome in any meaningful way.

Even the quick time events aren’t as exciting to me. In TWD I was afraid that being slow meant that I (or someone else) would get eaten by a zombie. Wolf’s combat is much more prolonged and there’s a lot of spamming of the A button, which often doesn’t even feel like it’s doing anything. You also need to fail a number of actions before you face any consequence (i.e. death).

To make a long story short (too late), I’m disappointed. TWD was one of my best gaming experiences last year, I got totally immersed in it, and the end left me choking back sobs for a good 10 minutes. Wolf just isn’t doing it for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’ll finish the game – hopefully the final chapter will elevate my experience a bit since there will be some closure and no more waiting. Chapter 4 is out next week, so I’ll let you know if it changes my opinion at all.

Have you played both of these games? What do you think?

Footnote: As a life-long inverter of y-axes, I’d really appreciate the ability to do this in future Telltale games. My quick-time responses could be much quicker.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Moebius: Empire Rising is the newest game from Jane Jenson, creator of the classic adventure game series, Gabriel Knight – one of my favourites. The game released on April 15th after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

As I backed this game on Kickstarter, I obviously really wanted to like it. Sadly… I didn’t.

In Moebius, you play Malachi Rector, a brilliant antiques appraiser whose social skills are lacking. Malachi is hired by a mysterious organization to do a mysterious job which takes him all over the world. As you get deeper into the story (minor spoilers alert) you find out what you’re actually doing. The group Malachi is working for believes in a “Moebius pattern” where the lives of people in history are being repeated in the present. They hire Malachi to find key historical figures who could bring about an era of stability and prosperity. Basically. Summarizing the plot to this game in a coherent manner was harder than expected.

The game does have some good things going for it. I did find the game occasionally enjoyable, especially at the beginning. The dialogue was decent, as was most of the voice acting. The background images were pretty and the music was good – very evocative of Gabriel Knight. There were also some unique kinds of puzzles. As your main objective in the game was to relate people to historical figures, one of the main puzzle types was matching up their characteristics. This was both interesting and educational, though once I had done it a couple of times, I figured out that just guessing was often quicker than reading though all the information.

My favourite feature of the game was a button that highlights all objects on the screen that could be interacted with. While using this could be considered easy-mode, I found it incredibly useful. Pixel-hunting for objects is not something I’m interested in doing, and this was totally prevented.

There were a few things that started out as positives, but turned into negatives. Adventure games are often far out there in terms of reality and physics. Adventurers often walk around with shovels, coffee tables and iron statues in their overcoats. Where do they put them? In this game, the protagonist often refused to pick things up until he saw a need for them. At first, I applauded that. Why would you walk around with a can of motor oil? But after a while, it got very frustrating. For example, at one point I needed to get into the VIP tent at a political rally. In order to lift a pass off someone I needed to go back to my apartment to pick up an mp3 player I hadn’t been able to pick up earlier. Once I used that to bribe someone to be a distraction I needed to go back to the apartment again to pick up some scissors. When I successfully stole the pass and had to go back to my office to get some superglue that I also was unable to pick up before. Then back to the rally to get into the tent. That’s a lot of back and forth that could have been avoided. Not picking up every single item in sight makes sense, but as it turns out, that kind of realism in video games is not a great idea. “How irritating” Malachi remarks. Tell me about it.

Items and inventory use wasn’t all bad though. I enjoyed that you were never overloaded with items and there weren’t any nonsensical item combination puzzles. No cat fur mustaches in this game.

Some of the puzzles fell flat. Malachi was able to analyze people to learn more about them. Sounds like a neat idea, but in practice it mostly involved guesswork and the process of eliminating the most ridiculous options.

The most unforgivable part of the game was an excruciating 50+ screen underground maze at the end. There’s only something to do/interact with on maybe 5 of the screens. The rest is just running through dark tunnels. Considering how the rest of the locations in the game (like France, Egypt, New York) have only a handful of screens, dedicating so many to this awful, dismal, repetitive place is almost insulting. Who could have possibly thought this was a good idea?

Moebius runs about 8 hours long. Though there were parts of the game I enjoyed and I’m glad I finished it (other than that awful maze), it was disappointing overall. The story was so-so, the characters were a bit flat and some of the animation work was downright bad. The game lacked the charm and historical detail of Gabriel Knight and really did nothing to advance the dying (dead?) point-and-click adventure genre, or even replicate it at its height.

Hopefully the other game projects I’ve backed (Tesla Effect – May 7!) will deliver more bang for my buck.

WoW Stories – Echelon

Last night my boyfriend and I were talking about our WoW histories. This story of mine came up, and it’s one of my most memorable moments in WoW, so I thought I’d share it.


 Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in a guild called Echelon. It was a guild I founded with some friends I had made in my previous guild, Group 5. Group 5 was a guild a bunch of us has joined just before The Burning Crusade came out. Group Five wasn’t terribly progressed, we had cleared Molten Core and AQ 20, and were just getting started in BWL. After being in Group 5 for a little while, a few of us decided it was not the place we wanted to be. Part of the problem was the transition from a 40-man raid to a number of 10-mans that were raiding Kara. The teams were formed in a questionable way and there was tension and competition (but not the good kind) between the teams of the long time Group 5 members and the people who had joined the guild more recently. 

After a while, things came to a boil and myself and two others decided to form our own guild – Echelon. We raided Kara some and got ourselves built up to a 25 fairly quickly so we could start working on the other raids. Things went okay. We weren’t the best raid guild, but we killed some bosses.

One night we were working on Gruul. It wasn’t going so well. Another resto Druid was getting exceedingly agitated that we were wiping and decided to rage quit. He left the raid, gquit his Druid, then methodically logged onto and gquit all of this other toons. Except he found he couldn’t quit the guild on his last alt. Whenever he typed /gquit he got a message saying that he could not quit the guild, because he was the guildmaster. Now this was odd. Our actual guild master was displaying correctly in the guild roster, this toon was just someone’s level 29 alt. But somehow, the game thought he was the GM. After unsuccessfully trying to quit a few times, he solved his problem with /gdisband. All of a sudden, in the middle of a raid, we were all guildless.

Obviously this was a bit of a shock, but rather than let it disrupt things too much, the raid kept going.

After raid, our GM went to Ironforge to re-create the guild, only to be met with the message that the name Echelon was already in use. One of the (many) Bleeding Hollow trolls had registered our guild name while we were finishing our raid. A bunch of them were even bragging about it in trade chat. Tickets were opened, but we weren’t able to get our guild name back, so from then on we were Echelon with a stupid special character on one of the Es.

The guild didn’t last too long. I left for the greener pastures of aus on Proudmoore near the end of tier 5 and forever left Bleeding Hollow behind. This event made my Echelon experience unforgettable though.


I even found a copy of the GM’s forum post about this.

Lessons learned from this?

People are dicks. 

Guild breaking bugs suck.

As far as we could gather based on bug reports and such on the official forums, our GM doing large amounts of guild rank changes in a short time span broke something. A few people who didn’t hold the GM rank within guild ended up with guild master powers.

It was awful when this happened, but years later I look back and find this kinda funny.

MoP – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I know we’ve likely still got 6 months to go before Warlords of Draenor is released and Mists of Pandaria is officially over, but honestly, the end feels overdue already. I thought this would be a good time to look back at the expansion and think about what aspects were great and which ones were not so good.

The Good

1. Pandaria is beautiful. The zones are varied and interesting. From the wildlife to the landscapes, everything looked good. The final cut scene in Jade Forest took my breath away the first time I saw it, and opening up the gates to the gorgeous Vale of Eternal Blossoms for the first time was one of my favourite moments from any expansion.

2. Challenge modes. I loved doing challenge modes the first time around. Small group content that was actually challenging? Amazing. These were a whole lot of fun. I will say though, I found they lost their luster a bit after I got  my first set of golds. Maybe it was because healing them on my Druid was more challenging than dpsing on my Hunter. Maybe because by the time I got around to them on my Hunter the people I was running with had already done them so many times, and there were countless CM guides and videos out so the problem-solving aspect was gone. Either way, when these became less challenging, I found them less rewarding. But they were amazing the first time around.

3. Different types of solo content. MoP added a lot of things that people
could do to occupy themselves. Proving grounds were a nice challenge, the individual parts of the legendary quest line were unique, pet battles (more the collection aspect really) gave me a lot to do, even farms provided me with something to do for a little while. There was also Brawler’s Guild, rare hunting, and many treasures to find.

4. Raid content, for the most part, was good. There were a lot of different,  interesting bosses. The devs played with some new mechanics and gimmicks (some successful, some not). I found tier to be 14 the strongest raid tier (even though it didn’t last long enough), buts tiers 15 and 16 had their shining spots as well.

The Bad

1. The grind. MoP had a lot of grindy components – dailies, rep, valor, coins, lesser charms. That kind of thing is never really enjoyable. However, I’m putting this in the ‘bad’ category instead of ‘ugly’ because it wasn’t that huge a deal. I know many raiders claim they were forced to do everything all the time, but I’m not one of them. I didn’t want to do Golden Lotus dailies when MoP launched, so I didn’t. I lived. My raid killed bosses. Besides, by the time you farmed the rep and the valor to get that revered for that chest or ring you wanted, one would drop for you in raid the very next day – that’s how it works.

2. Legendary Cloaks. How do you make a legendary item feel anything but legendary? Give it to everyone. Then give it to all of their alts. Besides feeling completely unspecial, making the legendary so ubiquitous also meant that if you wanted to raid occasionally on an alt (especially as a dps) you basically needed the legendary to be at all viable. If you didn’t want to grind through item collection, rep and valor, you pretty much had to resign yourself to the fact that your output would suck. I did find that 90% of the legendary questline was enjoyable – but only once.

3. All the things that made guild/raid administration so much harder than it needed to be.

  • Some raid encounters (heroic Ji-Kun, Dark Animus, Spoils of Pandaria) required spreadsheets in order to organize everyone. It went so far beyond “assign x healer to use a cooldown, y dps to interrupt this mob, and group z to stand here” it was ridiculous. The 9 different mobs in the Paragons of the Klaxxi encounter have a total of roughly 40 different abilities. I killed those guys a dozen times on normal and never actually understood what was going on.
  • Things like Thunderforged/Warforged gear and the ability for raiders to coin loot made loot systems more difficult to deal with.
  • Six different ilvls of loot in a tier and four different raid difficulties.
  • Raid comp requirements varied wildly from fight to fight. Some fights heavily favoured comps with lots of rogues and hunters, some were better with many warlocks (most of them, really). Heroic Thok required 8 healers. Garrosh – 3 or 4. What are those other 5 healers supposed to do? 
  • All of the raid meta achievements that had multiple requirements (like Megaera, Lei Shen, Dark Animus trash) made getting people their metas in raid complicated and repetitive. I didn’t even get mine in ToT, and I’m the GM who rarely missed a raid :(

The Ugly

1. Spending a year in the last tier of content. I know, I’m a broken record on this, but it’s awful piled on top of more awful because it’s the 3rd time it’s happened. People are bored and it’s a problem.

2. Healing became a game of cooldowns and button mashing. During the first tier of the expansion, healing was interesting. Mana mattered, I used most of the spells in my spellbook. As time went on this changed and healing turned into spam all the AoE/smart heals all the time. Very dull. Healing was also made less interesting my the amount of non-healer raid cooldowns available. With 3 offpsec HTTs, a few DAs, a boomkin to Tranq and a Warrior or two to do all the things they do, the way to defeat harder encounters usually involved dropping healers. I thought I’d be a healer forever, but the progression of healing in MoP managed to drive me into a dps role.

3. Lag and disconnects. There were a few things in the game that caused some awful lag, especially in 25s. Things like smart heals and Stampede were blamed, though they apparently got fixed. Lag stuck my raid most fiercely on Lei Shen and Siegecrafter, and we lost more than a few raid nights to it, as the game was basically unplayable for some people. It’s one thing to not kill a boss because people couldn’t perform adequately, it’s another to not kill it because half your raid has so much lag they can’t move out of spell effects fast enough.


 

Those are the highs and lows that stand out for me in MoP. What parts of the expansion did you love or hate?

Healthy Gameplay

A new Dev Watercooler went up today and it addressed a topic near and dear to my heart, healing. Specifically, it told us some of the changes we can expect to see to the healing game in Warlords of Draenor.

The first topic brought up is about health and resilience. It’s mainly related to PVP, so I don’t really care. I do think beginning the Watercooler with this was a mistake, as it open it up to cries of “Waaah, PVE healing is being nerfed because of PVP” and “you’re making healing too hard!”

Airplane 2 - Jerk off

Here’s the problem with that argument. It’s stupid. Okay, I’ll explain more. Nerfs (and buffs) relate to class and game balance. If you overhaul all of healing – reduce effectiveness of spells for each class/spec, add cast times, try to make each healer think and plan more – no one is getting nerfed. As a Resto Druid, I’m not any worse off than the Resto Shaman who’s seeing the exact same types of changes to their spells. People may not trust Blizzard to fix things correctly, but are they going to completely break the PVE game so no healer is capable of keeping their group/raid alive? No. They’re not.

Let’s move on to the changes that are being discussed.

Healer throughput will be toned down relative to the size of player health pools

…healers are able to refill health bars so fast that we have to make damage more and more “bursty” in order to challenge them. Ideally, we want players to spend some time below full health without having healers feel like the players they’re responsible for are in danger of dying at any moment. We also think that healer gameplay would be more varied, interesting, and skillful if your allies spent more time between 0% and 100%, rather than just getting damaged quickly to low health, forcing the healer to then scramble to get them back to 100% as quickly as possible.

To me, this sounds fantastic. I know it’s something that was tried before, but I’m glad Blizzard is giving it another shot. Hopefully it works this time. Health bars do get filled way too fast, and people spend way too much time at 100% health. Healing has turned into a very twitchy game, a contest of who can get those heals out first. As a Druid, the idea of people not being at full health very often is fantastic. I don’t want my Rejuvenation to be 60% overheal anymore, I’d love for it to do more effective healing. As a healer in general, I also really like this. I don’t want to play whack-a-mole. I want healing to require some thought and planning. If a tank dies, I don’t want it to be because I missed the 1 GCD that I could have healed her in between damage ticks. I’d rather it be because for the last 5 or 10 seconds I didn’t prioritize or anticipate damage correctly, and I got too far behind to save them.

Additionally, we’re toning down the power of absorbs in general. When they get too strong, absorption effects are often used in place of direct healing instead of as a way to supplement it.

Obviously absorbs create huge balance problems. It’s nice that this is acknowledged, but we didn’t get much detail about how this will be fixed.

We also took a look at healing spells that were passive or auto-targeted (so-called “smart” heals). We want healers to care about who they’re targeting and which heals they’re using, because that makes healer gameplay more interactive and fun. To that end, we’re reducing the healing of many passive and auto-targeted heals, and making smart heals a little less smart. Smart heals will now randomly pick any injured target within range instead of always picking the most injured target. Priority will still be given to players over pets, of course.

I’m a bit torn on this. I think smart heals are a huge problem. However, I’m not sure that making them dumber is the answer. I’d rather see less smart heals overall and have the ones left be less efficient. On the other hand, having my Wild Growth target a person at 70% health instead of the person at 30% health will force me to use some targeted heals on them, which I think we need to do more of.

Another of our goals for healing in this expansion is to strike a better balance between single-target and multi-target healing spells. We’ve taken a close look at the mana efficiency of our multi-target heals, and in many cases, we’re reducing their efficiency, usually by reducing the amount they heal. Sometimes, but more rarely, raising their mana cost was a better decision. We want players to use multi-target heals, but they should only be better than their single-target equivalents when they heal more than two players without any overhealing.

On the surface, this sounds good. However, thinking more about it, I see a problem. Earlier in the post they mentioned that they don’t want players to be sitting at 100% health so often. If that’s the case, multi-target heals should usually be hitting two or more players without overhealing, meaning they’re usually better than their single-target equivalents, meaning there’s really no decision to be made. I think that efficiency/mana costs will need to be adjusted even more if this has any chance of working.

Finally, we’re removing the low-throughput, low-mana-cost heals like Nourish, Holy Light, Heal, and Healing Wave, because we think that while they do add complexity, they don’t truly add depth to healing gameplay.

Excellent.

…we’ve increased base mana regen a great deal at early gear levels, while having it scale up less at later gear levels.

In theory, this should mean that we can’t spend our mana willy-nilly in the last tier of the xpac. As long as they don’t add in things like the legendary meta-gem to ruin it.

Less instant cast heals

Over time, healers have gained a bigger and bigger arsenal of heals that they can cast while on the move, which removes the inherent cost that movement is intended to have for them, while also limiting players’ ability to counter healing in PvP.

Now this change does actually seem to be mainly about PVP. But, I think for many of the spells they mention getting a cast time (Wild Growth, Uplift, Word of Glory, Light of Dawn, Cascade, Divine Star, Halo) a side effect will be that these smart/multi-target heals are even less efficient, and encourage people to think before they use them. I do have a couple concerns with the spells they’re giving a cast time to though. Giving Prayer of Mending a cast time seems unnecessarily punitive, as does giving a cast time to Wild Growth, a HoT. If they do this, I think WG needs a small instant heal component like RJ does, otherwise it takes too long after you decide to cast it for it to start ticking.


Overall, I’m impressed with the information they released and really hope that everything works out. I think a few of the points need some more thought in order to accomplish the stated goal, but I’m hopeful.

I think a major overhaul is just what the healing game needs. Right now it’s about as engaging as swatting flies. Make mana matter, force us to make choices, let us use our whole toolkit without 1 or 2 spells making up the most of our healing. If they can pull it off, healing should be fun again.

The 80% of comments whinging on the watercooler post really boil down to this:

We fear change