Sunday, August 11, 2013

An update on WoW Alone

Hi all,

I have recently received a communication from a fan of this blog (who would've thought I still had fans?), asking me to give an update on my gaming life and what I've been up to since I stopped posting here. First, thank you dear reader for sticking with this blog for so long and for keeping an interest in it. Surprisingly I still get some traffic, though I have no idea why people still visit. Second, here's an update that should hopefully clear things up.

1. I obviously quit posting on WoW Alone. The last post was more than a year ago. The last 10 or so posts weren't even about WoW. When I quit WoW, I did it cold turkey and I did it for good. There is no turning back. I might go back to it, perhaps, if it went F2P some time in the far future for nostalgia's sake but I don't want to spend any more money and time on it.

2. About the same time, I also stopped maintaining my site. I'm really sorry about that one folks. I know some of you found it really useful, but there was simply too much work involved maintaining it, keeping it updated and adding new features that it wasn't worth the time and effort, especially since it was a money sink and the ad revenue barely paid for the hosting.

3. I realized that I wasted a few precious years playing WoW and not doing much else. Since I quit WoW I focused more on my personal health, through better nutrition and exercise. Now I feel better, look better, am stronger and healthier. It's a long and difficult journey but it's worth it if you stick to it and make it a way of life.

4. I've been playing mostly World of Tanks during this time. It's a great game, well balanced, easy to learn but hard to master. It has the best F2P model in the industry in my opinion. In fact, if you so desire, you can play the whole damn thing (from tier I to tier X) without paying a cent. It will take longer, of course, but it's perfectly doable. I like to call it an online First Person Shooter with tanks. If you haven't played it already, do yourself a favor and give it a try. The same people (Wargaming) have now released World of Warplanes which is a very similar game, except with planes rather than tanks.

5. I also played a lot of Diablo 3. This was my most anticipated game ever but unfortunately didn't live up to the hype. I even started a new blog focused on Diablo 3, called Diablo Head. That didn't last very long. When I realized how empty it felt compared to Diablo 2, I lost steam and stopped playing it and posting on the blog. I still play D3 every now and then, but that's because my Paragon 51 Wizard is very well equipped and it's fun to destroy everything in my path with my Archon build. But it has mostly become a mindless exercise.

6. I dabbled a little in Path of Exile, which is a pretty good F2P Diablo clone. Some say that it's a true spiritual successor not only to Diablo 2, but also to the original Diablo, with its dark and gritty art. I like it, but I stopped playing that as well, because it got really hard from a relatively low level. It feels very hardcore to me and I guess I'm not that kind of gamer anymore.

7. Currently I'm playing Borderlands 2, which I got recently from the Steam Summer Sale, for $20, including the first 4 expansions (Season Pass). It was a very good deal and I wanted this game for a long time, I was just waiting for it to be on sale.

And that's about it folks. If you got any questions, use the contact email or comment here and I'll try to answer them. Thank you all for being a fan and reading my blog for so long and I wish you all the very best in your future gaming adventures!

Monday, March 19, 2012

SWTOR impressions

The free SWTOR weekend is over and it's time for me to share some impressions. 3 days isn't enough, by any stretch of the imagination, to review a MMORPG, so I hope you will forgive me if I say that SWTOR seems like vanilla WoW with a Star Wars skin, albeit more polished.

The game is such a "clone" of WoW that I immediately felt at home, despite not playing WoW for almost a year. The interface is instantly recognizable and familiar, to the smallest of details. There's P for skills, I for inventory, C for character screen, ENTER for chat, R for replying to a whisper, /dance for dancing and so on, ad nauseum. Don't get me wrong, this is a great thing. I noticed the same thing in Rift and it has really become like a standard that MMO developers are following these days. Considering how many people play these games, it's extremely helpful if interfaces are consistent across games.

I tried 7 of the 8 classes, including Jedi Warrior, Smuggler, Trooper, Sith Warrior, Bounty Hunter, Sith Inquisitor and Imperial Agent. The only one I skipped was the Jedi Consular which didn't seem that interesting. I only managed to level the Sith Warrior to level 10 where I unlocked the talent tree and professions, while the others were leveled to 4-6 or so.

I can't even say that the Sith Warrrior was the most pleasant class to play with. I tend to prefer ranged classes and the Trooper, Imperial Agent, Smuggler and Bounty Hunter were more interesting. I also realized (too late) that I should have leveled a Sith Inquisitor instead of a Sith Warrior. The Warrior is based too much on melee moves and uses the "rage" system which didn't quite feel right to me. Instead, the Inquisitor uses both magic and melee and uses Force as a resource, which acts in a more predictable way, just like mana.

Character customization was disappointing. I expected more from this game, maybe not what Skyrim does but certainly something more involving than WoW. Instead, all the characters, regardless of race, felt bland. The thing that bothered me the most was the scarcity of options for height and body type. Those should have been 2 independent sliders with infinite granulation. Instead, each gender gets 4 predefined body types.

What felt even more annoying was that, while I could create a fat guy character, I couldn't create a fat chick. The closest thing was a curvier-than-usual female which was anything but fat. Dammit, I wanted to play a fat chick!

The game felt easy to play at the beginning, just like WoW. Grab quests, go places, complete quests, return, get reward, rinse, repeat. I appreciate the fact that each class has a "recovery" skill which helps you quickly heal and recover resources after a fight. Fights weren't too hard, except for one instance where a quest boss killed me about 4 times until I got my companion. Then, the fight became trivial. That encounter didn't seem too balanced.

The companions are an interesting concept but the way every class gets it's own companion type (which can't be changed) feels very artificial.

At level 10 I got my first taste of the crafting system and, again, it felt different in a good way. Being able to send your companion on a crafting mission is pretty cool. Also, sending them away to sell the useless crap that you find is a good thing, although not original to this game.

The graphics are kind of disappointing. I almost feel that WoW's are better, although they are probably not. The intro movies are kick-ass, because they are CGI, but the cutscenes suck ass. The character animations in these cutscenes felt very 2000-ish.

Now I'm sure lots of people won't be pleased by what I'm gonna say next. The much-ballyhooed voice acted quests are, in my humble opinion, rubbish, as well as a waste of resources. They would have been better off sinking that cash into something else, like some proper character customizations. OK, I admit, I'm not really the lore type. I don't devour lore and story like some people do. I prefer the action.

I started out by diligently listening to all the spoken dialogue - until I realized that I was wasting time (and I didn't have a lot of that) instead of exploring the game. After I figured that I wasn't missing a great deal by skipping through the dialogue, I started to do that. Pretty soon I wasn't caring at all about the story or anything that supposedly went on in the game. I just followed the quest markers on the map. While I kind of understand why they used voice acting for the main quest story, I don't see the point of this for every single crappy quest your character encounters. Every "Kill 10 rats" type of quest has voice acting. But whatever. Some people like it. Good for them. I just feel that they put too many resources into this one "killer" feature instead of improving other areas of the game.

And then there's this whole dark side/light side paradigm that is starting to grow old. I mean, even the Sith wouldn't be so stupid as to permanently do cruel things without reason. Yet, the game forces you down the narrow light/dark path, without the possibility of recourse. Of course, you could stay neutral but then you won't have access to certain items which are unlocked by how good or evil you are.

There is one thing, at least, that SWTOR does right. Dead, lootable mobs are marked by a shaft of light, which is colored based on the type of item which drops. Green item? Green shaft. Pretty cool idea. The other thing that, I thought, was awesome, is area loot. Oh how I wish WoW had this feature whenever I farmed low level dungeons with my level 80! Essentially this allows you to collect loot from all the bodies in your vicinity by looting a single body. Kick-ass feature.

Well, ok, I also enjoyed how light sabers can be customized, with crystals, grips, power sources and what-not. It felt very much like KOTOR. Too bad I'm not much of a melee person.

I wanted to post some screenshots but I have no idea where the game saved them, so screw that.

I'm gonna stop here because there's nothing much left to say. The game was ok, but nothing groundbreaking. I'm certainly not going to spend a single cent on it. Will I ever play it again? Not unless it goes free-to-play, and even then, if I don't have something better to do.

Friday, March 16, 2012

SWTOR free to play this weekend

You might have already heard that Star Wars: The Old Republic is free to play this weekend. If not, I'm here to tell you that SWTOR is free to play this weekend.

I've quit WoW for over a year and I won't return, at least not as long as it costs money. I'm so over WoW that you won't even believe it. Yet, I will continue to love RPGs and even MMORPGs, and I have always loved Star Wars, so I owe it to myself to try SWTOR for a few days.

SWTOR has been one of the most successful MMORPGs in recent history, apart from WoW, and though I won't buy it or subscribe to it, I do want to get a little taste of it. Hopefully one day this game will become free to play and maybe I can explore it some more. Until then, I am dedicating myself to other hobbies and games, in particular Diablo 3. If you haven't already, and if you are a Diablo fan, head on to my Diablo blog.

Though SWTOR was made available for play yesterday, it took me all night to download the massive client, despite download speeds in excess of 1MB/s. Oh well, at least it's free.

This weekend I won't be doing anything but playing SWTOR. Next week I will post a few impressions.

So forget WoW for a few days, y'all, and go get a taste of SWTOR.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Blizzcon this year - boo-frickin-hoo

So Blizzard has decided to forego Blizzcon this year, "to focus on the games that are in development". In my opinion that's a wise move. I don't know how many resources a conference steals from development but this year is very busy for them. They are planning to release no fewer than 3 games: the next StarCraft chapter, WoW's next expansion Pandaria and the most anticipated game of the decade, Diablo 3.

I would much rather they focus all their resources on releasing these games (especially Diablo 3) than to be distracted by Blizzcon.

If you think about it, there's nothing much they can show off this year. There are no surprises left, apart from the unannounced project Titan. We all know what games are coming out this year and all of them (except perhaps for Pandaria) are close to being done.

Project Titan is most likely a long way from completion and that's why Blizzard won't announce anything related to it this year.

Taking all the above into consideration, why would they host Blizzcon in 2012? Just to get some geeks together? They claim that they are losing money on the show anyway (despite the high price of the ticket), so why bother?

Nah, don't be too disappointed if you were planning to attend this year. Apart from meeting like-minded folks (which is always cool) there wouldn't be any new announcements to spice things up. I just wonder what they'll show at Blizzcon next year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Today only: $79 Nook Simple Touch from BN

Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past couple of days, let me be the last one to let you know that Barnes & Noble is selling a limited edition of the Nook Simple Touch e-reader, today only (November 25th 2001), for only $79, down from the regular $100.

First, I have no affiliation with Barnes & Noble whatsoever. Second, I thought I would post this here because I'm sure many of you are avid readers, just like I am. Fantasy and SF buffs usually are.

Why would you buy this e-reader? If you have an older reader that is not locked into, say, Amazon, this is a good buy. If you don't have an e-reader yet and are thinking about switching to e-books, this is also a good buy. Myself, I had an older reader, a Sony PRS-300 that served me well over the past 2 years. As of late, however, I felt the need for a better reader: a larger screen (the Sony has a 5" screen), faster page turns, screen with better contrast and also a touch interface.

The Nook Simple Touch has all the above: 6" screen that uses the new e-ink Pearl technology (which the latest Kindle also shares), much faster page turns and book loading than my old Sony, a dictionary, a longer lasting battery, WiFi, a responsive touch screen and a microSD slot. Compared to the Sony it does have 2 disadvantages: it is sightly taller and wider (but feels thinner because of the beveled back) and it doesn't have an aluminum face plate like the Sony. The bigger dimensions give it an extra wide bezel which allows you to told it better.

B&N are only offering this special edition for $79 today so if you like the deal, go now and buy it! The one thing that makes it "special" is the fact that it has a white bezel around the edge while the regular version has a black bezel. Otherwise it's identical to the regular Touch reader.

Here's B&N's page for this promo.

Personally I think this was a very good deal. E-reader prices will continue to go down but there are finally several choices under $100 and now's a good a time as any to buy a new reader. Here are some shots I took of my new reader, as well as a comparison to the Sony PRS-300 Pocket Edition.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Skyrim - or the trouble with console ports

Over the weekend I had the good fortune to lay my hands on Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC) for a few hours. A friend's friend had just picked up the game and he let me play on his machine. I was rather excited to get the chance to test it because the hype surrounding this game is huge. It has almost universally garnered excellent reviews.

This isn't a proper review because I only played the game for those few short hours. It is mostly a commentary on the sad state of console-to-PC ports.

First, a little background. I adored Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind but disliked Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. For these reasons, I wasn't sure I was going to like Skyrim.

In the little time I spent with Skyrim, I discovered an amazingly complex universe where my character was free to roam at will. The world of Skyrim is hauntingly beautiful and just makes you want to keep exploring. Well, until you stumble across some vicious monster or other.

I enjoyed the experience a great deal but all this was marred by the game's biggest flaw: the interface. Unfortunately, the developers were lazy enough to slap the same shoddy console interface on the PC version. The fact is that Skyrim wasn't made with a mouse and keyboard in mind. And it really sucks. The menus, the inventory system and character stats are a mess. It's true that after a couple of hours playing it I kinda-sorta got used to it but given enough time one can get used to anything, for example like riding a lame donkey versus a Ferarri.

To further compound the issue, the skill "tree" is so badly conceived that I dreaded having to visit it when I leveled up. The various "perks" are arranged in the form of constellations, a different one for each skill. While nice and shiny, navigating between the different skills and perks with a mouse and keyboard is a nightmare.

Melee combat seemed floaty and imprecise but casting spells was satisfying enough.

Overall I enjoyed Skyrim, which was more than I expected from it. The incredibly open world is rich with places to explore and quests to conquer. Even half an hour into the game you can find youself with at least half a dozen quests in your log and it's more often than not that embarking on one quest will get you sidetracked into yet another side-quest. In my short time in Skyrim quests didn't feel repetitive either and apparently the devs have stated that the game can generate an infinite number of quests, which is always a good thing for replayability.

All things considered, Skyrim still comes out as a great game but it's unfortunate that Bethesda has forgotten their PC origins and have chosen to saddle this otherwise brilliant game with a terrible and shoddy console interface. My dislike for consoles is only hardened by this experience, and I continue to believe that a proper RPG should not be played on a console, or at least not without mouse-and-keyboard. While many reviews have given Skyrim scores of 9/10 or 90%, I can't give it more than 8/10. I was seriously considering buying it but now I'll just wait until it reaches the discount bin.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

DC Universe Online is now free-to-play

Just a heads-up for those interested. Starting on November 1st 2011, which was yesterday, DC Universe Online went free-to-play. I'm not that much into superheroes but I'll give it a whirl.

At this point I have very little knowledge about this game but I'll try to learn it as I go along. If I can get past the first couple of hours without getting bored, then I'll probably keep playing.

The free version of the game does seem a little restricted compared to, say, World of Tanks, but let us not forget that DC Universe Online started out with a subscription-based model. You can still subscribe, fear not, but now there's the option to try-before-you buy.

I've currently downloaded about 10GB of the 14GB game client. Yikes! I'll probably fire up the game over the next couple of days.