Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Burning down Ahune

Last night I gathered together four guildmates to head into Heroic Slave Pens and take on the new seasonal boss, Ahune. Getting to him was easy enough, though he appears towards the middle of the first large cavern, which meant that we had to clear out a couple of extra mob groups.

I won't delve into his abilities too much since that's already covered elsewhere, but I will say that we had several wipes as we tried to figure out the encounter, each time getting him slightly closer to death, but the sheer number of little water elementals he spawns kept overwhelming us (and the ice spikes certainly didn't help). After seeing how little damage and hit points these little guys did, we decided to go all out offense. I switched out my tanking gear for my epic PvP suit, wielded a two-hander and spent most of the fight in fury stance (as the main tank). It was a hectic fight, and I had a couple of close calls (the damaging debuff that the main add puts on you is pretty rough), but we emerged victorious! The smaller adds only have 2000 hit points, so it was pretty easy to bring them down with all of us targeting them. With both myself and another warrior using whirlwind, we were able to work over the elite rock elemental at the same time. Then, when Ahune was vulnerable, we were already in the proper stance for damage. Couple fury stance with Blood Fury and Death Wish and you have some serious damage output! Our group makeup was two arms warriors, one elemental shaman, one beastmaster hunter and one holy priest.

Overall a fun fight, though expect to have a few wipes when you're first learning the encounter.

Bartle and WoW

So there's been some buzz going around lately about Richard Bartle's latest interview. Most of it coming from enraged Warhammer fans who take umbrage at his comment that he wont play WAR because he already played it and it was called WoW. I think that statement is fair enough, and in fact, I hope that WAR is similar to WoW in many ways, because WoW does do a lot of things right. Anyway, there has already been a lot of talk about that on other blogs and Bartle has even responded on some of them.

But, I'm going to skip commenting further on that bit and instead focus on the rest of the interview, because I found a lot of his comments about WoW exceedingly odd.

My first impression on reading the transcript is that Bartle seems to have some trouble voicing his thoughts. Some of his responses are pretty jumbled and they all kind of ramble. My second impression is that the title is very misleading as he really says very little about how he would change WoW. He has one comment asking why the WoW auction interface doesn't accept buy orders, and another about the limitations of the LFG tool. Both good points, but the rest is a semi-coherent ramble.

As far as I know, Bartle hasn't done any active MMO development in years, and from some of his responses, that's probably a good thing. He says that he has played WoW to the point of having three level 70s (which is about all I can understand from his disjointed mutterings about his character progression). But, it also seems that he wanted to play WoW as a solo game almost entirely (and I also don't understand the part where he bitches about being 'required' to farm Stranglethorn Vale if he chose leatherworking? You know, there are plenty of skinnable creatures in other zones and also a little something called the auction house).

He has a very odd comment about having trouble getting a group together to get his last 0.5 Tier armor piece for one of his level 70 characters!! I don't know why he's so focused and upset about trying to get a level 60 blue armor piece for a level 70 character, but I doubt anyone will argue that the LFG interface in WoW is subpar. I've managed to get into a couple of instance groups using it, but, for the most part, the only reason the LFG tool ever sees any use in-game is so that players can get access to the LFG channel and manually assemble groups themselves.

Then he goes off on a rant about Karazhan and mentions several times about how its impossible to go into with PUG. Maybe Bartle should have tried harder, because I see Karazhan PUGs forming all the time. The process for acquiring a key to Karazhan is pretty painful, and the fact that they used to require EVERYONE to have the key was just plain dumb, but I'm really not sure why he calls it a "guild breaker". Karazhan was the first epic-level raid zone that Blizzard created that could be easily explored by even the most casual of guilds.

It seems as if he really had little idea what he was doing in WoW (or he's just really, really, really bad at explaining himself). Now granted, I have had my own share of complaints about WoW, but I have also played for 3 years and delved into every aspect of the game; crafting, soloing, raiding, PvP of all sorts, and even roleplaying, so I feel I have a pretty solid base from which to throw out my complaints, suggestions and applause as warranted. But from reading this interview, I have to wonder if Bartle should have had his daughter show him how to play the game.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Fall from Heaven: Initial Impressions

So I finally got around to trying out the Fall from Heaven mod for Civ IV and I have to say that I am impressed. It's a pretty major reworking of the game, giving it a distinct fantasy feel that fills that longtime void left by Master of Magic.

First off, a disclaimer. This is an alpha work in progress (they're currently on version 0.32), so there are plenty of bugs and balance issues as well as a lack of consistent documentation. But if you're willing to put up with that, it can be a very entertaining experience.

Here are a few highlights and general observations of the gameplay:

  • Magic, magic and more magic - 12(?) different types of magic; dozens of spells; civilization specific 'world spells'; various summoned units, some permanent, some temporary; buffs, debuffs, direct damage, terrain alteration, etc. Did I mention that you might want to invest is some magical units and research?

  • Religions have a major effect on your civilization and the game in general. Choosing your religion can change your alignment as well as affecting what types of units and buildings you can create.

  • Tech research is extremely slow, which encourages specialization, but also makes the game drag quite a bit. I definitely wouldn't play any slower than normal speed (I usually play on epic) and have been considering increasing the game speed even more for my next round.

  • Lots of new unit promotions and a shifted focus towards veteran units. A number of units (including all heroes), gain experience just for existing.

  • Lots of new abilities such as units that can walk on water, land units that can attack and board naval units, area effects, and more.

  • Barbarians are more dangerous (especially the annoying giant spiders that like to hide in the forests) and can build hero units of their own.

  • Warriors are an important and viable unit for much of the game

  • Researching mysticism early seems vital. Not only does it give you a cheap source of research (via the Elder Council city improvement), but it also paves the way for future magical research.

  • Every civ plays quite a bit differently.

Click the link below for more thoughts and summaries of my first two games.

My first time playing the game, I just chose a random starting civilization and ended up with the Grigori, an agnostic civ as it turns out. This ended up being good in one way, since it gave me one less aspect of gameplay to worry about, but I also felt like I was missing out on an important part of the game. I also started off with my typical standard-Civ strategy of trying to get a worker out quickly and learn bronze working so he could cut down trees and speed up production. This is not such a great strategy for Fall from Heaven. Chopping trees only gives a small production bonus and tech research is significantly slower, making those early research choices even more vital.

Before I abandoned that game, I did manage to build several of one type of my special units, Dragonslayers, and send them over to a nearby barbarian city that happened to be occupied by a dragon! After defeating the vile beast, I occupied the city and discovered an 'improvement' called Dragon Hoard that gave culture points as well as gold. The most interesting part though, was that this improvement could be picked up by a unit and taken to a different city for safekeeping!

For my second game, I wanted to experience the magic side of the game, and I also wanted to try my hand at being evil (Fall from Heaven has an alignment system that can have a major effect on diplomatic relations as well as your civilization progression in general.) I immediately locked onto the Sheaim, a civ who's ultimate goal is the destruction of the world! Sounds good to me!

So I start out at one end of the continent. I get off to a slow start and find my one and only neighbor infringing on my territory and establishing an outpost in a hilly desert area near a small lake. I managed to build some of my special units, the Pyre Zombies and declared war on him taking the outpost that would eventually become the seat of religion in my small, decadent empire.

At one point towards the middle of this game I definitely had a WOW! period where I really felt like I was an evil bastard, driving my pitiful population as hard as I could while the wastelands piled up around us. Setting the forest on fire and watching it burn, leaving charred trees behind where once there had been lush green foliage as far as the eye could see (the trees eventually grew back). Zombies and demons poured out of my cities, slaying his warriors as they tried to cross the desert and striking back into his forests whenever I was able to get a few units together. My economy was in shambles, my people illiterate, but I was actually maintaining status quo by pillaging improvements and regularly sending groups of slaves back to bolster my production. In the meantime, I was focusing my research of dark magics and deals with demons, which gave my lands this sort of sickly red and black color scheme. Meanwhile, my opponent had founded the Tree-hugger religion (the actual name escapes me at the moment) and was building an army of Fawns to supplement his seemingly never-ending train of warriors. I also found it oddly appropriate that my evil religion (Ashen Veil) had been founded in this town that sat on the edge of the desert and was surrounded my mines, a truly miserable place indeed. I was inspired to write the following couple of bits during my escapades.

Turn 282 - My troops rampage through their countryside, setting forests ablaze at every turn. I have not the power to assault his cities in force, but any troops caught outside of their protective walls are quickly destroyed and the survivors sent back to my capital as slaves where they are sacrificed to aid in finishing the Prophecy of Ragnarök. My economy is in ruins, but I drive my people forward on the brink of destruction, bolstering my faltering civilization with riches from the plundered towns of my foes.

Turn 287 - We have begun to encounter strange woodland creatures defending the cities of our enemies. Though hoofed, they have the smell of fresh air about them, and thus are not demons. They have proven little match against my zombies so far, merely slowing our assault with piles of their furry bodies.

Turn 304 - Rosier the Fallen has been summoned and the Stigmata raised in our Holy City. This was the same outpost that our foes had planted near our borders, prompting this entire war. Once a small village, barely eking out substinence in the hilly and barren lands on the edge of the desert, it had been turned into a city of industry and corruption. Deep mine shafts have been dug into every hillside, vile temples have been established and a eldritch Planar Gate was built to call forth minions and allies from beyond the void. Demonic whispers came to our priests through this Gate, bringing with them a lovely and deadly succubus to help fulfill our goals of conquest and destruction. And with the newly learned art of Necromancy, diseased corpses now answer our call as well. It is tough finding a proper balance of troops, but I suspect that this infernal hero on my side will soon sway the tide of battle. Slaves are still being sent back to the homeland on a regular basis to provide fresh blood for anointing the Ashen Veil temples. Meanwhile, our sages work diligently in their attempts to contact the demonic forces directly and bring their might to bear on our side.

At about this point I finally got my act together and pushed a stack of units (led by the hero) behind the front lines and took several towns. Unfortunately, I went for capture instead of razing, figuring that I was on the verge of wiping him out. It didn't work out that way and my economy quickly went down the toilet. Just as things were looking really grim (0% research and I was still hemorrhaging ~30 gold a turn), I finished researching Infernal Pact, which brought a new civilization into play, the forces of hell themselves! I was then offered the option of abandoning my current civ and taking control of the new one. Given the dire straits I was in, I chose to jump ship and found myself in control of a small city out in the tundra on a different continent. I had a very large demon hero and a number of various other demon units. Unfortunately, I happened to be next to two goody-goody civs who quickly declared war on me and started blasting my units with holy spells at which point I decided to call it a game.

All in all, I've had a very interesting experience with the game so far and it has occupied most of my gaming time for the past week. If you like fantasy, strategy games, or are just a Civ fan looking for something different, I highly recommend checking it out. Given the sheer scope of the changes and added features coupled with sporadic documentation, it can be extremely confusing. I suggest looking up anything you're unfamiliar with the Civopedia. Here are some useful links:

Forum thread with links to download latest version as well as an FAQ

Strategy link #1

Strategy link #2